Snapping Turtle

Early this morning, I was driving to a park for another day of nature appreciation when the ‘partly cloudy’ weather forecast turned into rain.  So I turned around and headed back home.  At the nearest major intersection to where I live, I was waiting at a red light in the half-dark, rain coming down, when I saw something moving slowly in the street on the far side of the intersection.  At first I thought it might have been something floating on the water runoff, but it was actually moving up a slight slope…that’s when I noticed the silhouette of a turtle- and it was a pretty decent size.  A turtle was strolling down the street through a major city traffic light!

I immediately was worried about it- though it was early and rush hour hadn’t started yet, there were some cars waiting for a green light it was walking in front of.  It was too dangerous to jump out in the half-dark rainy conditions to do anything about it…the one good thing was, if I could see it, others could too, and maybe they’d drive around it.  I quickly drove home, grabbed a box, and went back to the intersection.  It only took a couple minutes to get back.  I started looking in the street, but then noticed the turtle in the grassy strip alongside the road a short distance from the intersection.  These pictures were taken on my pocket camera in rainy dim conditions, apologies for the lack of great quality.

How did it get over the curb?  It either walked up the handicap-accessible ramp at the crosswalk, or someone stopped their car and got out and put it on the grass.  Or maybe I’m selling this powerful reptile short, though clambering up a curb would be a chore.  It seemed uninjured.   Notice its  long tail and substantial claws, and its massive head.

I went to pick it up, and it opened its mouth, ready to snap at me.  Yikes!  I picked it up by the shell from behind, and it snapped in vain at empty air.  It was about the size of a football- here it is in the box I put it in.

This is a specimen of Ohio’s biggest turtle, the Snapping Turtle.  Snapping turtles have a fierce reputation- unlike many other turtles they are a bit big to withdraw all the way into their shells, so they snap at threats as a defense mechanism.  So I forgave this one for snapping at me.  These animals enjoy bodies of water and eat a variety of things, including aquatic plants, invertebrates, and even small mammals and birds.  Its not uncommon around this time of year for females to travel distances away from water (preferably in the rain, like this morning) to lay their eggs.  I didn’t want to see this turtle run over on a city street, so I boxed it up and drove to an area park that has both a river and a lake, and set it on the grass near some woods.  It was much calmer about me picking it up the second time.

It sat there unmoving for several minutes, perhaps getting over its recent adventure, being picked up and put in a box and driven around was probably disorienting.  I took a walk around the area in the drizzly weather; when I came back, the turtle had walked off, safely away from the busy streets that it had attempted to navigate.  She was in turtle paradise!

Turtles haven’t changed much in the 200 million years they’ve been around.  These guys were under foot in the Age of Dinosaurs.  They must be doing something right.

I learned an interesting fact about Ohio turtles while reading up on them this morning- the sex of hardshell turtles depends upon the temperature at which the eggs develop at.  Snapping Turtle eggs that develop at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit hatch male turtles, but if the temperature is much higher or lower than that, they hatch female turtles.   Sometimes a clutch of eggs will hatch as females at the warmer top of the nest, while the cooler bottom of the nest will produce males.  Pretty interesting creatures!

Yet again, I was reminded of the fact that you never know where or when you’ll run into interesting wildlife encounters.  Keep your eyes open!