Tips for catching Chelydra serpentina.
Really. Watch out Leonardo, I'm a regular renaissance woman.
Sometimes writing takes a back seat to real life.
My husband headed out before me a few days ago and phoned to tell me to “look out front by the neighbor’s mailbox. But don’t go near it.” And then he left.
At first, I didn’t see anything. I was expecting to see a big buck. We have a lot of deer in our neighborhood during the spring and fall so what I thought I’d see was one of them making their breakfast out of my hostas. I spray the plants with a vile liquid that makes me want to vomit, but for some of the deer, it’s just salad dressing.
But I digress.
After scanning back and forth, I finally looked down.
There it was, crossing the road, a prehistoric-looking creature covered in mud. I was hoping it had just come out of hibernation (and was glad I missed it when it passed our house going the other way). Even from fifty yards away, I recognized the distinctive shape of the snapping turtle.
This turtle’s flat ridged shell was about a foot long, with its jagged edged tail adding another foot in length. In a word, this beast looked formidable.
For those of you who haven’t met “the beast,” they are called snapping turtles for a reason. If you approach, they will go for you. And although they lumber fairly slowly across land, the muscles in their neck are strong and can extend accordion style with lightning fast speed to catch the unwary.
My husband said to leave it alone. And I was in bare feet, so I ran back into the house to dry my feet, put on socks and get on a pair of sneakers. By the time I checked back on the beast, it had moved twenty yards, into the middle of my front yard.
Although my head was telling me to “follow directions” a part of me rebelled. Our lot is sloped front to back and I think the turtle was just passing through, heading down to the end of our neighborhood to the open fields and stream that lie beyond. But what if it wasn’t?
What is it took a liking to a shady spot under a bush and I reached in to pull weeds? I’d lose a finger. Or two. Or three.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to ignore it. I wouldn’t be able to get anything else done, thinking about it.
I got two large buckets from our garage. One bucket nested nicely inside the other. One bucket is NOT enough. I cannot emphasize this enough. And piddly-sized indoor gonna-mop-the-floor buckets aren’t advised either. These were substantial buckets that used to hold When the turtle’s neck shoots up out of the bucket, you’ll want something between you and it. A riled up turtle will stand on its back legs and reach farther than you ever believed possible.
I set one bucket on the grass in front of the turtle, open end facing it. Then I used the second bucket to hook under the back end of the turtle’s shell and “encourage it” into the bucket. The key is to move swiftly because the second you touch the turtle it is in full out attack mode. Once the turtle is in the bucket, tip it up with one hand while simultaneously nesting the second bucket inside, covering the beast.
And that’s how I know the beast I had was twelve inches long. It barely fit. Now that would have been a bad misjudgment on my part . . . .
But it ended well. With the beast pinned down, I walked the quarter mile to the woods and set it free. I was going to take a photo before it disappeared, but by then I was too jazzed to remember.
What I did do was to read up about snapping turtles when I got home.
I discovered something important.
Snapping turtles hibernate in the water. They come “upland” and can travel up to a quarter mile, to lay their eggs.
I guess I’m glad I helped a new “mom” back to her habitat. She would have had to cross two roads on her own otherwise. And snapping turtles are important parts of the ecosystem. They eat dead fish and small mammals and “clean up” their environment.
But if “mom” was upland laying eggs, that means I will have to be on the lookout. Little snapping turtles won’t be as ferocious looking, but they’ll have the numbers on me.