10 Awesome Snapping Turtle Facts
Snapping Turtles are often maligned because people think they're mean and scary looking. But they're actually pretty fun to hang out with. Don't believe me? Here are some facts about snappers that might change your mind.
1. Common vs. Alligator Snappers
Let's start with the basics. There are two types of snapping turtle: the Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). A common snapper has a smoother shell than an alligator snapper's, which has three distinct spiky ridges. Don't be fooled by common snapper hatchlings, however. They have ridged shells at birth that even out over time. The alligator snapper has a more triangular head with little bumps that look like eyelashes around the eye. Generally, the alligator snapper looks more prehistoric than the common snapper. Can you tell these two apart? (Source)
2. Common Snapping Turtles are an Ancient Species
People say turtles are slow, but snapping turtles might say that humans are slow! The modern snapping turtle evolved over 40 million years ago, while anatomically modern humans emerged only 200,000 years ago. Snapping turtles hung out with dinosaurs, but they're not closely related at all. Birds have more in common with dinosaurs than snapping turtles do. Source.
3. Alligator Snappers Have Tongue Lures
Alligator snappers, unlike common snappers, have a worm-like appendage that they can wiggle around. Rather than hunting down food, they prefer to sit around with their mouth open waiting for lunch to come to them. These guys have fishing down to a science.
4. Darth Vader's Cataract Surgery
On August 15th, 2009, some good samaritans called the Toronto Wildlife Centre to inform them of a common snapping turtle in need of medical help. The turtle, later called "Darth Vader," had injuries on its tail and feet. One eye was missing, and the other blinded by a cataract. No one had ever done a cataract surgery on a turtle before, but Dr. Joseph Wolfer went ahead and tried anyway. The surgery was successful, and Vader was released on May 25th, 2010. This is the video of Vader going home.
5. Surprise Turtles at Red River Zoo
In January of this year, an anonymous donor dropped off two albino snapping turtles at the Red River Zoo in North Dakota. Not only were they super cute, but they were also super rare. According to Zooborns, albinism occurs in 1 in every 30,000 snapping turtles, and these little guys rarely survive in the wild. (Source)
6. Snapping Turtle Sex is Determined By Temperature
The temperature you incubate a snapping turtle egg at plays a role in determining the sex of the turtle. Eggs typically need to incubated in the 80 degree range, but eggs hatched at cooler temperatures tend to produce males, and those at higher temperatures, females. Breeders will often use this knowledge to produce male or female clutches. But it also gives us some perspective on what global warming means to turtle eggs. A couple of degrees could drastically change a generation of turtles.
7. The Snapper You Met Probably Wants to Lay Eggs
Snapping turtles generally like to hang out in the water, unless it's time to lay eggs. Between March and November, if you see a snapping turtle wandering around, it's probably a mama turtle wanting to lay a nest. Don't harass these turtles. They'll leave you alone if you leave them alone. But help them across roads if you can. You'll want to move them in the direction that they're heading.
8. Don't Pick a Snapper Up by the Tail
NEVER EVER hold a snapping turtle by its tail! You can do some serious damage to its spine this way, and the turtle won't like you very much if you try. You should always hold a snapping turtle by the shell and support its weight as much as you can. You can see a photo tutorial of the right way to hold a snapper at chelydra.org.
9. Sometimes Snappers Go Out In Cold Weather
As cold blooded creatures, snapping turtles generally prefer warm weather. But it is believed that they can tolerate colder temperatures than most turtles. There are many unconfirmed stories about snappers swimming around under sheets of ice. But in March of 2009, one woman found a big common snapper walking across a frozen pond. If you ever come across a turtle like this, it doesn't hurt to call your local rehabber to check him out. (Source)
10. Snapping Turtles in Politics
Congress passed the Embargo Act of 1807 in response to British impressment of American sailors. Jefferson also hoped to remain neutral in a conflict brewing between Britain and France by refusing to export goods to either country. It wasn't a popular bill, and as Americans got increasingly tired of trying to evade embargoes, they came up with stupid names to call the Embargo Act like "Dambargo," or "Go-bar-em." One term, "Ograbme," was popularized by a cartoon of a snapping turtle biting a merchant on the ass. Ograbme is embargo backwards, by the way. Isn't that clever? No? Well, the term stuck with snappers, as people colloquially referred to them as "Ograbmes" for some years afterward.