The Staying Power of Snapping Turtles

The Staying Power of Snapping Turtles

Sure, snapping turtles are sometimes irascible and always prehistoric-looking. But these relics, which have been around for 90 million years, are the ultimate survivors.

By Ted Levin
Published: March-April 2012

A young snapping turtle's fate depends upon its mother's choice of a nest site, which determines both a hatchling's size--moist earth produces larger embryos than dry earth--and its sex. Known as temperature-dependent sex determination, or TSD, the temperature of each egg midway into the first trimester of incubation influences a hatchling's sex, a trait shared with all crocodilians, many other turtles, and several lizards. Under the southern sun, which might shrivel the eggs, snapping turtles nest in the shade. Here, in the cooler Northeast, they seek full sun. Although there are TSD differences across the snapping turtle's broad geographic range, mostly males develop at temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and mostly females above 84 degrees or below 70 degrees. A clutch of eggs may produce mostly females on top, where it's warmest, and on the bottom, where it's coolest, while males dominate in the middle of the nest. Nests with a uniform temperature may yield a single sex.

Carroll sees a snapping turtle's life, even that of the biggest, scariest-looking turtle in the pond, as filled with obstacles. Hibernating snapping turtles, with some of their meaty anatomy exposed, are inviting targets. Otters, Carroll says, root out these comatose and defenseless victims and chew off their legs and tails.

Avoiding prowling humans is another story. People hunt and trap large snappers for their meat, of which there is plenty. In the Midwest and South, there's a large commercial market. Historically, Carroll tells me, snapping turtle soup was popular in Philadelphia, and it still is in some places. When I attended college in Indiana, I bought a can of turtle soup in a local grocery just to give it a try, but it proved to be bland.

"I've never eaten it," Carroll says. "I can't eat my brothers."

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Ted Levin

Ted Levin is currently working on a book on timber rattlesnakes.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

A snapping turtle dragged a

A snapping turtle dragged a retriever, going to gather up the duck its owner had shot, to its death in our nearby marsh. An entire dog. They are monsters. But, that being said, they are God's creatures, so don't run them over in cruelty... yes, I' ve known this to be done while they lay there half-alive and I assume suffering... and, yes, of course we pulled over and sent them to turtle heaven via a hatchet that was in the car for some silly reason. Either leave them alone if they are just crawling/swimming along; but of course quickly cut off their heads if you've just witnessed one of their atrocities. Don't think this is mean. I've helped rescue more than one on the road. At the same time, they have little purpose here at this stage of life on earth. Don't kill them unless necessary, but if it is necessary, don't hesitate. I've swum where they are and that's scary too.

snapping turtles

I have always been facsinated by turtles and tortises. Before animal crulety regulations in the arly 1950's, I would spend my allowance on the thousands of red sliders sold at dime stores. They would have had a better chance in the wild to survive than at Woolworths and TG&Y.
Those times are long behind us, thank goodness and science.
I have three rescued, as babies, common snappers. One was found newly hatched on our patio, the cats trying to decide whether to eat it or not. Though we realize it is illegal to remove wild animals from the wild, our decision was to try to bring it up to an age it would have more of a chance than nature would provide. (S)he was placed in a 5 gallon aquarium and the endless chore of finding enough worms etc began. So did the weekly scrubbings. To make a long story shorter, the next year , two more babies appeared. They suffer the same fate. Now the oldest is 3, and is 12 inches long, still gets scrubbed to keep their shells clean of scum, algae, and parasites. They spent summers outside in a giant kiddie pool and winter indoors in indivual aquariums. They tend to become obese in the winter, w etry to cut their food down but they DO like dinnertime. Though they have never attempted to snap much less bite, we are VERY conscious that a mistake on our part will lead to an ER visit. Their time has come to be released in our pond. We have been retraining them to take live food by a diet of minnows in the summers so they learn to hunt. It has been an interesting journey. They are said to be amongst the least intelligent animals, however, I can tell you they do know the difference between we two humans, and have not mistaken fingers for food, understand bath time and endure it without struggle or anger. They also tolerant water changes without acting out nor do they fight with one another not even over food. We have noticed the older they become the less they come for the food while we are present as if instinct is telling them danger is there when another animal is around, even us ( or maybe they just associate us with bath time)
enjoyued the article very much and have been wondering where these guys came from. The information about the sequester ability of the females explains how they came to be so far uphill from the river. Thank you

snapping turtles

I have always been facsinated by turtles and tortises. Before animal crulety regulations in the arly 1950's, I would spend my allowance on the thousands of red sliders sold at dime stores. They would have had a better chance in the wild to survive than at Woolworths and TG&Y.
Those times are long behind us, thank goodness and science.
I have three rescued, as babies, common snappers. One was found newly hatched on our patio, the cats trying to decide whether to eat it or not. Though we realize it is illegal to remove wild animals from the wild, our decision was to try to bring it up to an age it would have more of a chance than nature would provide. (S)he was placed in a 5 gallon aquarium and the endless chore of finding enough worms etc began. So did the weekly scrubbings. To make a long story shorter, the next year , two more babies appeared. They suffer the same fate. Now the oldest is 3, and is 12 inches long, still gets scrubbed to keep their shells clean of scum, algae, and parasites. They spent summers outside in a giant kiddie pool and winter indoors in indivual aquariums. They tend to become obese in the winter, w etry to cut their food down but they DO like dinnertime. Though they have never attempted to snap much less bite, we are VERY conscious that a mistake on our part will lead to an ER visit. Their time has come to be released in our pond. We have been retraining them to take live food by a diet of minnows in the summers so they learn to hunt. It has been an interesting journey. They are said to be amongst the least intelligent animals, however, I can tell you they do know the difference between we two humans, and have not mistaken fingers for food, understand bath time and endure it without struggle or anger. They also tolerant water changes without acting out nor do they fight with one another not even over food. We have noticed the older they become the less they come for the food while we are present as if instinct is telling them danger is there when another animal is around, even us ( or maybe they just associate us with bath time)
enjoyued the article very much and have been wondering where these guys came from. The information about the sequester ability of the females explains how they came to be so far uphill from the river. Thank you

Ted: My third grade class in

Ted: My third grade class in SW Florida enjoyed your snapping turtle article. They are interested in all animal subjects. Yank

What a great article, I truly

What a great article, I truly enjoyed it. Glad to see snapping turtles presented in a good light for a change. They are one of my favorite turtles, but then I tend to rot for the underdog. I noticed you are working on a timber rattlesnake book. I am working on a timber rattlesnake survey with our local herpetologist. I have been contemplating writing a book on timbers in Missouri.

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