Dancing with Snapping Turtles

I’m showing you this photo of a Snapping Turtle, but the picture that should have been taken was me, in my high heels and skirt, picking it up and carrying it to my car while it peed on me.

Here’s what happened.

I was on my way home from work this evening when my drive up busy Highway 7 was interrupted by a car stopped in the right lane. As I steered around it I saw the hold-up: A man was on the road in front of the stopped car, and was prodding a big snapping turtle with a window scraper to try to move it along.

This was the moment the skills I learned (specifically, how to pick up a Snapping Turtle named “Jaws”) at a reptile workshop in January 2014 paid off.

I pulled over, jumped out, ran over to the duelling pair in wobbly high heels, and cried, “Stop! I can help!”. The turtle was living up to its name and had a firm grip on the end of the scraper. I asked the man, a very kind off-duty police officer, which direction the turtle had been headed and told him that it was probably a female looking for a place to lay her eggs. The man told me he didn’t know, it had been upside down on the road; he asked me to try to stop it from going back on the road while he went to find a shovel.

Not being one to take direction well when I can go one better, I moved to get behind the turtle. Snapping Turtles can’t retract their heads into their shell, so their necks are just long enough to protect their back legs. If I could just get behind it, I could grab its hind legs and “wheelbarrow” it… somewhere. First I had a gentle word with the prehistoric-looking creature, we stared each other in the eye and I said, “I’m not trying to hurt you, you poor thing”. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I swear the turtle calmed down a bit. Either that or it was judging the distance to my nose.The snapper was a good dancer, and every time I moved she swivelled to face me.I finally used the scraper to block her turn and I moved behind her, got hold of one leg and quickly thought, “screw that” to the wheelbarrow plan. She was wiggling and kicking and snapping and so I reached a flat hand under her tail and picked her up under the belly. She stopped fighting as soon as she was off the ground and just as the startled man arrived back with a shovel and a blue recycling box.

IMG_1882We inspected her for injuries (none found), and walked a short distance with the big turtle balanced between my hands to try to find a safe place to put her. Rubberneckers were having a good long look at the, um, unusual sight. I quickly decided that there wasn’t a safe place nearby to release her, so the kind man and I put her in the box, loaded her in my car, and took her to Silvercreek to let her go. We both took pictures of her (see above) before she slipped away, and the man told me that if he’d known I was going to pick her up he would have had his camera handy. Too bad. Frilly shirt, long skirt, high heels, and a snapping turtle. One of my better looks and worth recording for posterity, to be sure.

P.S. I was reminded to mention that if you find a Snapping Turtle on the road, help it safely reach the direction it wants to go. In this case the direction was across a busy highway, so relocation was a better option than another dead turtle.

Snapping Turtles are a species of special concern and can live as long as 70 years. In Ontario, females do not begin to breed until they are 17 to 19 years old which is why the death of just one turtle is a serious loss. Learn more about Snapping Turtles at Ontario Nature.