The Outdoor Journal Snapping Turtles

It’s been a wet six  weeks here in the mid-west and turtles of all kinds have been on the move. Contrary to what you sometimes hear, the unusual amount of rain probably doesn’t have much to do with the appearance of these armored reptiles on the roadways. 

The common Snapping Turtle mates from April through November with the female having the rather impressive ability to hold sperm for several seasons, using it as necessary.  The males are larger than the females with most weighing less than 22 pounds. The mating season, along with warm weather, food shortages and other factors play a part in the sudden appearance of turtles on the pavement, but the egg laying season probably is the biggest driver of the urge to move. Egg laying season for snappers peaks in June, lapping over into July.  According to Wikipedia, “Females travel over land to find sandy soil in which to lay their eggs, often some distance from the water. After digging a hole, the female typically deposits 25 to 80 eggs each year, guiding them into the nest with her hind feet and covering them with sand for incubation and protection” 

As with most reptiles, the incubation time varies depending on the soil temperature, but usually happens with 9-18 weeks. 

In the ponds, marshes and back waters where snappers live, they are the top of the food chain and have few predators. Their eggs are another story.  According to the Virginia Hematological Society, “eggs are subject to predation by crows, skunks, foxes, and raccoons. As hatchlings and juveniles, most of the same predators will attack them as well as herons (mostly great blue herons,bitterns, hawks,owls, bullfrogs, large fish, and snakes.”

Snapping turtles are important aquatic scavengers. The are also active hunters and eat about anything they can swallow.  

As an MSHP Trooper, I once assisted a couple who’s pickup tire was punctured when they ran over a snapping turtle on US 36.  So next time you see a snapping turtle lumbering across the road, steer around him or her if you can.  They can live 30 years or more in the wild, and your tires will appreciate it too.

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