Common Snapping Turtles are the largest turtle found in Canada. Not to be confused with their cousins, the Alligator Snapping Turtles, these turtles are much smaller and much more docile. Although they can still be ferocious on land when they feel threatened, they are usually curious and relaxed when in the water. There are myths surrounding these fascinating creatures, such as their reputation as being vicious. They are also rumored to have the jaw strength of a pit bull, enabling them to snap a broomstick in half or sever a human limb. They are not capable of anything more than a painful bite and their beaks are barely sharp enough to break the skin.
These two nature enthusiasts were informed about what appeared to be a huge turtle stuck in the mud near a tiny creek in Southern Ontario. The location seemed unusual and the turtle gave the impression that it was injured or sick. They were given pictures and a description of what appeared to be very atypical behavior. Knowing that late September is when Common Snapping Turtles should be preparing for hibernation, they were concerned that this turtle was in trouble so they went out in the woods to check on it.
Looking at the surroundings, it appeared that the turtle in the picture had tried to bed down for winter in a shallow hole. This would freeze over and cause the turtle to die during the cold winter months ahead. Concerned that the turtle had not been able to find a suitable hibernaculum, they decided to investigate and make sure all was OK. Disturbing a turtle at this point in the process of hibernation would be only a very mild annoyance. Because Common Snapping Turtles have been declared a “species at risk” in Ontario, ensuring its safety justified the quick investigation.
To their surprise, these two men found at least three turtles in one hole. Carefully reaching in, one of the men could feel the shells and estimate their size. Two turtles were removed quickly and checked for injuries and overall health. The biggest one, weighing 30 pounds (13.6kg), was the one they were most concerned about. The turtles were healthy and their chosen spot proved to be perfectly suitable for hibernation. It was discovered that the hole actually connected with the quick flowing creek, ensuring that it would not ice over completely in the winter. There was a large space under the ground due to erosion from the creek. The depth of the hole was also adequate to insulate the turtles from cold.
A 30 pound Common Snapping Turtle is a very large animal that could be between 60 and 100 years of age. A huge male like this would have very few predators and it is very important to the survival of a local turtle population. The data from this find was provided to biologists and conservationists to assist them with their efforts to protect these turtles.
Although it is not recommended to handle wild snapping turtles unless necessary, it can be done safely following the example here. Hands should always be kept well back of the midline on the shell. Claws should also be avoided and a turtle should never be held by the tail. The weight of a large snapping turtle is enough to cause spinal injuries if they are held in this manner.
These turtles quickly returned to the bottom of their hibernaculum and will be safe here until the spring.