Snap To It!

American Indians tell a story of how the weight of the world was built on the shell of the “Great Turtle,” a snapping turtle. The snapping turtle is honored for its strength and stamina.

Most people around here aren’t so kind. Snappers, they say, are ornery, aggressive, ugly, and good for nuthin’ but eatin’.


Photo: Ontley via Creative Commons 4.0

Snappers are all over the place in Virginia, if you know where to look. Old-timers will offer to come fish them out of your ponds for you, so they don’t chew off your duck’s feet.  “If a snapping turtle bites you, it won’t let go until it thunders,” they say.

Which, of course, isn’t true. Snapping turtles are shy creatures that won’t bite unless provoked. They look weirdly prehistoric because they are prehistoric, hanging around in ponds, virtually unchanged, for the past 90 million years.

Evolution passed them by. Or, you could say, they were built tough and just right to begin with. They didn’t need your stinking evolution.

Unlike other turtles, a snapper can’t tuck its head inside its shell.  But it can reach its amazingly long neck around and bite your fingers if you try to pick it up and don’t know what you’re doing. (I told you not to provoke him!)

Unlike box and painted turtles, the cuties of the turtle world, all of this has led to a bad reputation for snappers.

David Ortiz has a bad reputation because he does things like this.

Snapping turtles get a bad rap simply because they look strange.

The Oakland A’s Single A affiliate is the Beloit Snappers.

beloit snappers

The Snappers are off to a slow, turtle-like 14-22 start in the Midwest League, Western Division, this season, which isn’t very snapper-like. Only the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have a worse record.

Come on, Snappers, snap to it!

The Wildlife Center of Virginia got this one, patient #15-0395, a few weeks ago after animal control in Culpeper, Virginia picked it up in a nearby park.


The vets think it got hit by a car, injuring its carapace (that’s poetic vet-speak for the top of a turtle’s shell). You can still see its injury.

The vets and rehabbers did their life-saving thing:

“We did a short regimen of pain killers and flushing of the wound. We also did a week of laser therapy to speed up cell regeneration in that area. The wound is still visibly present though the tissue is healed and closed. However, this guy is TOO feisty to stay with us, so he’s [ready to be set] free!”

They wrapped the “feisty” snapper up in a box and Editor/Husband brought it home so we could release it back at the park in Culpeper.

(Turtles are homebodies, hard-wired for their very limited territory. This is why it’s nice to help a turtle cross a busy road, but don’t take it any farther than that.)

help turtles cross the road

Cardboard boxes are fine for toting many things, like shoes, and cereal, and old tax records, but maybe not so much for transporting feisty 15-pound, 90-million year old prehistoric turtles. Snapper broke out of the box and was sitting in the back of the Subaru by the time Editor/Husband got home.

I’m sure the snapper was simply eager to get out of the hospital and back to its pond.

We got the snapper back into its box, headed to the park where it came from, and carried the box down to the creek bank.


Home Sweet Home.

I expect turtles to be slow and methodical about things. You know, slow as a turtle.

But, the actual release took only 10 seconds or so. Seven of those seconds was carefully turning the box on its side so the turtle could slip out onto the bank of the creek.


 Do not let anyone try to convince you that a cardboard box is a secure mode of transportation for a 15-pound snapping turtle.

Three seconds later, the turtle was off, diving into the water and out of sight.

And, there it goes … 





Wouldn’t you know it, we had the Dee Gordon of snapping turtles.

May 23 is World Turtle Day.

Happy snapping, Snappers!

Part 1: There You Go, Turtle!

There are some people in my world who believe that all I do on weekends is baseball-baseball-baseball.

That is laughable.

(Not as laughable as the Orioles-0, Indians-9 game today. Really, boys? Really? It’s CLEVELAND!)

No, not everything is baseball.

Take today for instance.

I released a turtle.


Look who came to our house!

Editor/Husband (when he is not editoring or husbanding) works at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, a wild animal hospital.

He’s often asked to cart animals around, picking up patients and, once they’re healed up, returning them to the wild. (He does other stuff there, too, but at the end of the day people only want to hear about the time a bear cub nearly got loose in his Outback.)

Sometimes Editor/Husband’s car will smell a little weird, like a possum family might still be living in there, waiting for a road trip to the Sonic.

(Fun Fact: Sonic really does put jalapeño chunks in its chocolate jalapeño milkshake. I’m still not sure how I feel about this.)

Last night, he brought home a spotted turtle, a rather rare species. It had been hit by a lawnmower about a year ago and its shell had been badly injured. Shell-healing is, not surprisingly, slow-going for turtles.

Here’s what you need to know about spotted turtles.

They can have up to 92 spots on their upper shell, head, neck, and legs. Ours is disappointingly light on the polka-dots, although I didn’t think to count.

A turtle’s upper shell is called a carapace. Our turtle has a dark chin and brown eyes – which means he is probably a male. Some experts have described the mating habits of spotted turtles as “frantic.”

A spotted turtle can live to be 50, if he is careful and stays off of roads and out of the way of lawnmowers.


World Turtle Day is celebrated every May 23.

The Wildlife Center releases its healed-up reptile patients as close to their original homes as possible. This is especially important for turtles who have some sort of “Home Sweet Home” software wired in their brains that makes them serious homebodies.

Which is kind of funny if you think about it, since turtles carry their homes on their backs like little RV campers. Come to find out, they don’t even really like going anywhere.

Their shells hold all their worldly possessions. (Turtles travel light and their shell, some insides, four legs, a head and a tail, are pretty much it for worldly possessions, but if they had stuff, I suspect they’d just cram it into their shell, like we cram mints, spare change, keys, iPhones, and shopping lists into our pockets.)

So, we took turtle back to his original “home.”

This turtle, we discovered, like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, had been living the good life in a very pretty gated community, filled with pretty homes ringed by perfect gardens and swimming pools and walking trails and country clubs and tennis courts.

Turtle had chosen well.  I wish someone would release me there

fawn lake

We found a quiet little side lake for the turtle …


… away from the road and lawnmowers and away from the lady who was afraid we were releasing baby geese into the lake and came running over in a panic to tell us how the geese were pooping on her lawn.



We showed her the turtle and she calmed down.

“Oh, I like turtles.”

Turtles, apparently, have a prozac-like effect on some people.

So we opened the box, and set turtle on the bank.

turtle on the bank

And, off turtle went.

turtle on the bank2


turtle swimming

All wet and swimmy and happy, I guess.  Turtles keep a pretty good poker face. But, if I was a turtle, healed up and free and back home in a nice gated community, on a lake filled with pollywogs and geese, on a beautiful sunshiney Saturday, I’d probably be a pretty happy turtle …

Even if some of the hospital stick-um from my shell-healing was still on my back.

turtle stickum



Wait, really, no baseball?  …

And, just as we are pulling out to leave the pretty gated community with the swimming pools and tennis courts and … hey, wait a second … stop the car!!!!  What’s that over there?


click here for Part 2 …