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January 11, 2017     Post 82
Life On The Beach part 2

The Most Misunderstood Beach Creature

Occasionally we'll see a snapping turtle, swimming in the shallows near the creek. It appears our beach doesn't have the correct rock composition for nesting, though I have seen snappers digging nests in roadside gravel and on the highest part of the beach at Main Duck. They may hike hundreds of yards inland in search of the ideal nesting site.

I was surprised to find one a few years ago under a burdock leaf in our yard, probably a quarter mile from water. How in the world do the tiny hatchlings ever navigate back to the water after emerging from the nest so far inland?

Most of them must fall prey to a crow or possum or some other predator, even if they do know which way to move after digging out. Now and then later in the summer I see tiny dried out snappers on the roads near wetland areas. Seems so sad, that these valiant little babies couldn't crawl quite far enough.

Snapping turtles have a reputation for being mean vicious evil creatures that bite fingers and toes off. A big one might do that if it were on land, but in the water they are mild mannered or even downright timid. I was once wading around in a little swamp with my camera and found myself standing right beside a medium sized snapper. It moved aside and didn't give me a second look.

They usually swim away if they spot you, though at Main Duck they are considerably braver at least in the anchorage. Do treat them with respect on land though. On shore they are not comfortable and so are highly defensive. I tried to carefully shove a snow shovel under one to push it off the pavement a couple summers ago. The turtle jumped six inches up in the air spun around and hissed its defiance. They can lunge very quickly. This one literally ran away from me across the road. I had no idea they could move like that.

Another time I picked a small one up by its tail and moved it. This,I now know, is not proper turtle rescue procedure. You can injure the animal by carrying it this way. Likewise, don't push or drag it across the rough pavement with a shovel or a stick as you might skin it up. Sometimes it's probably best to just leave them alone.

Because I've seen so many crushed by cars driven by people who consider snappers vermin, this is hard to do. In a Canadian study on a wildlife refuge 2 % of the drivers who saw the turtle (a model we assume) tried to hit it. I'm betting the percentage is even higher here in North Wolcott where many consider them to be tasty additions to the soup pot.

When you do shift one you always leave wondering if it will stay safe. Alas, they may have other ideas about where they should be. Quite possibly it's on the other side of the road from where you left them.

The Internet says our northern snappers are long lived. At Main Duck they sometimes swim up to the boats and appear curious. Some have figured out how to pan handle and they're said to recognize individual human faces. Might they remember a boat from one year to the next at Main Duck? Like an old black schooner that dispensed ham back in 2014? I've read that they may be as smart as birds- though they move a lot slower.

Though far from rare, some localized populations in the region have declined sharply. Considering the alarming number of various turtle species including snappers being exported to China as food these days (32 million between 2003 and 2005 ) this is not reassuring.

If you have land near turtle water consider working up a patch of sandy soil for a nest site. If it gets used you could protect the site from predators like foxes and skunks with a fence that would allow baby turtles to pass through.

Many native people around here refer to North America as Turtle Island. Turtle swims in a primal ocean carrying the world on its back. Making eye contact with an old mossy snapper floating alongside the boat gives the distinct impression of intelligence. It's not hard at all to see where reverence for this ancient long lived beast came from. They truly seem to be wise old citizens of the water world. They outlasted the dinosaurs. I hope they survive humans.

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