Sunday, August 21, 2011

Baby Snapping Turtle--an armor-plated cutie!

Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentine) are often thought of as aggressive and cantankerous biters, but this little fellow is nothing but a cutie...

...even though this little armor-plated turtle is going to grow up to be a fierce Snapping Turtle, he really is a CUTIE now. Just like the softshell turtles in this post, Snapping Turtles cannot pull back into their shells for protection, so to survive predatory attacks, they have to be fierce, quick in the water, and be able to inflict significant damage with a bite.

Snapping Turtles can smell decomposition in the water and will eat dead fish and rotting plants (like vultures of the water!). Because Snapping Turtles include carrion in their diets, they really help us out by keeping the stagnant ponds and slow moving rivers they live in clean. It's even reported that Snapping Turtles have such a strong sense of smell they have been used by the police to find drowning victims in ponds and rivers (source: Manitoba Herps Atlas). I wonder if that is really true. I should call the police and ask them because I can't picture a Snapping Turtle tethered on a leash...

...although fighters on land, in the water most Snapping Turtles are shy and will simply dive under or head the other way if they encounter a human.

...still coated in mud from where he was buried, this baby Snapping Turtle clearly shows that he cannot pull his head into his small carapace (shell). Like the softshell turtles in this post, Snapping Turtles also have a very small plastron (under shell); however, being fast swimmers with aggressive personalities more than makes up for their inability to lock themselves up in a shell for protection.

Snapping Turtles have three prominent dorsal keels (ridges) on their carapaces. The keels are more pronounced on young Snappers like this one and tend to fade or smooth out as the turtles grow--and they can really grow! Snapping turtles are the largest turtles in Ohio (source: Ohio Department of Natural Resources).

Snapping Turtles also have the longest tails of all the turtles, and their tails are scuted (meaning they have bony protective plates). You can see just how long a Snapper's tail is here...its nearly as long as the carapace. As this baby gets older and his shell grows, the tail won't look quite as long, but it will still be impressive. As Snappers get older, their scuted tails become more serrated and the three rows of spikes become more prominent. (Source: "How to Tell How Old a Snapping Turtle Is")

In the above photo, see how this Snapper's tail drags in in the mud as he walks into the water? This is a good sign to look for when trying to find turtles. They leave footprints and tail prints behind just like any other animal. If you study the sand or mud along a pond, lake or river, you probably will start to notice these little tracks. I have lots of photos of turtle tracks. They are really fun. I'm going to put a little post together on them soon...

(We found this little fellow in a small pond near the Great Miami River on July 10, 2011.)

22 comments:

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Great pictures, Kelly... I now know the difference in snapping turtles from the others.. I'm always careful when around turtles... They look so harmless....

Hugs,
Betsy

Lois Evensen said...

Yes, he is a little cutie. Your images are marvelous as always. I especially like the reflections in the first three. Number three is "a framer" for sure!

TexWisGirl said...

you really did catch a cutie there! i'm not a big fan of the adults, though. they took a lot of baby ducklings off our pond before we could get them relocated to other ponds down the road.

rebeccainthewoods said...

You're right, he's adorable! Awesome photos.

Montanagirl said...

Great shots Kelly. I don't often see turtles here. That baby looks harmless enough...but...

Sue said...

How interesting-I didn't know they couldn't pull their heads in. Hubby will be impressed with my factoid the next time we see one.
I've always been so afraid of these guys.

Roy said...

Heh, heh! I once spent the good part of an afternoon watch a baby Snapper think it was hiding from me. It stuck it's head in the mud, with the shell and feet clearly visible. I guess it was working on the assumption that if it couldn't see me I couldn't see it.

Kerri said...

Oh, he is Absolutely Adorable! You find the neatest creatures!!!
Outstanding captures!

Out on the prairie said...

I put a huge one in a 4 foot fence to show a few friends and it climbed out.

KAT said...

We have a snapping turt in our subdivision pond (Brandywine) and have been warned via an email to stay away . they put out a trap and want to remove it. I was hoping maybe they would let it stay...sounds like they are beneficial. I think they are worried that it will bite the waterfowl (ducks) geese) do they bite birds ???

Hilke Breder said...

Yes, it' a cutie! Beautiful images, Kelly. If I see one at all it's been flattened on our dirt road by a passing car. Encounters with adults can be scary. I remember a huge one on shore in a refuge rearing up at me. I had to make a quick retreat.

Adrienne in Ohio said...

Yet another amazing series of photos, Kelly! They are cute when they're small. We usually have a female come through the yard every summer on her way to lay eggs by our creek. The pond is across the street, and I'm afraid she may have gotten hit by a car this year. The first time I ever saw her was watching through my front window as my then five-year-old reached out to pet her. Yikes! Fortunately he was too timid to actually touch her, and she must not have been concerned about him. I have never gotten out the door so quickly in all my life!

Laure Ferlita said...

I have to say you're the first person I've ever heard describe a snapping turtle as a cutie!! Too funny! Having had a few run-ins with them as a kid that didn't know to leave them alone, I don't it ever crossed my mind that they could be cute.

Elaine said...

Beautiful photos and very interesting. I have learned a lot from your turtle series. I've never been around snapping turtles, or for that matter any of the others.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

I've enjoyed your turtle posts--they're interesting creatures, aren't they? Great photos, too.

Pam Johnson Brickell said...

Love all the info, Kelly! Your images are perfect and I feel like I was there with you. What a beautiful eye on this cutie!

Elva Paulson said...

He is a little cutie! ... lots of good information too.

Kathiesbirds said...

Kelly, your photos are so crystal clear! I have always been afraid of snapping turtles. I know how fast they can snap! I did not know all these amazing facts about them, however and your photos sure do make them look cute. I have always been afraid of one snapping me when I go swimming. glad to hear that they usually swim away. I have seen some in Connecticut as large as hubcaps!

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

I have always loved your photos of birds but the posts on the various turtles are really striking a chord with me. I saw lots of turtles as a child but we do not have them here and I realize I do miss seeing them. I have also learned lots about turtles I did not know.

So thank you for these posts.

Regards
Guy

Roy said...

Great photos (nicely snapped) Kelly. I would hardly describe him as being "cute" though.{:)

Chris said...

Yes it is cute... maybe for us big mammals, but I guess anything like a small fish or batracian will be scared to death with such an encounter... Beautiful set of pictures Kelly, they are really nice!

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone!! He's cute now, but you're right...we do have to watch out for them when they are older. Snapping Turtles grow to be the largest turtles in Ohio! As a kid, I used to think all turtles in the water were snapping turtles. There's always so much to learn...