Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Does a Snapping Turtle Fear?

At the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, the Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) does not fear much once it grows beyond a hatchling! One look at the body armor and the sharp, powerful jaws and there is little reason to wonder why! However, gators are always a cause for concern, especially in the SEC and if they're wearing hip boots!

We were in the swamp collecting macroinvertebrate samples for tomorrow's Charleston Air Force Base Earth Day program, when we noticed a pair of mating snapping turtles. Mac Stone, one of our seasonal naturalist and a Florida Gator, investigated as the pair of turtles moved down the creek channel closer to our location. Kids! Do NOT attempt to pick up a snapping turtle. Even when being held by the tail, a snapping turtle can stretch its neck and bite you or a bystander. The turtle's jaws are powerful enough to remove a finger. In fact, snapping turtles kill other turtles by decapitation!

The male turtle that Mac is holding does not appear to be happy that he was interrupted. Mating can occur between now and November though egg fertilization may not occur after the somewhat-violent coupling. The female may store sperm for several years, which allows her to lay eggs in following years without having to find a mate. This is possibly another reason the male turtle was unhappy with Mac's curiosity. If the eggs are fertilized, the female will find a rotten log or sandy soil on higher ground and dig a nest hole with her large back legs. She will deposit up to 85 eggs, cover the hole, and return to the water without spending any more time with the eggs or hatchlings. Many of the nests will be predated, especially by the raccoons that find the nests with their acute sense of smell.

Snapping turtles hunting mates...just another sign that spring has arrived.

Image by Mark Musselman

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