Sunday, May 30, 2010


Common Snapping Turtle
(Chelydra serpentina serpentina)

These are not particularly good photos because the day was overcast, and "mama" was in constant bellicose motion, hissing and snapping at us.

We were out for a drive near Rosetta when the first of the season's snapper mamas came into view yesterday - she was right in the center of the gravel road and taking her own sweet time crossing to the other side to lay eggs in the warm gravel.

There is always a big turtle stick in the back of the VW at this time of year, and we stopped to nudge the combative female across the road and into the ditch on the other side. She was not happy, and she let us know it, biting several chunks out of our stick on her unwilling way to the safety of the verges.

I have great affection for these modern day survivors of the dinosaur age. Snappers, as we know them today, evolved forty million years ago and have been around a lot longer than that - they were the ancestors of most of the other turtle species now residing on the planet. The snapper's own ancestor, the late Triassic Proganochelys, rambled the earth some 215 million years ago, predating dinosaurs by at least 100 million years.

Snappers are a tough tribe indeed - they were one of the few reptile species to survive the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event (once known scientifically as the K-T boundary) and the nuclear winter or ice age which followed it sixty or seventy million years ago. [Use of the term "tertiary" to describe units of time or geology is now in disfavor in the scientific community, and the K–T extinction event is often referred to as the Cretaceous–Paleogene (or K–Pg) event.] By contrast, we humans have been blundering around here on earth and mucking things up royally for a scant three or four million years.

With their horned beaks, ridged carapaces, huge talons and spiked tails, snappers do resemble the ancient dinosaurs, and I have always loved their style, their solid stance, lumbering gait and Amazon attitude. Vast numbers of snapper mamas are killed on country roads every year at this time, and it seems a small thing to stop and move them to safety.


the wild magnolia said...

I love turtles! They are ancient and we are blessed to see them today!

Thanks for sharing!

Delphyne said...

These are great pictures, Kate - we have a few really large ones in the river around the town. So amazing that their ancestry dates back that far!

Anonymous said...

I have moved turtles out of the road many times, always sending them on their way with a silent blessing. I love their attitude as well! That protective mother instinct is powerful and totally respected!