Scott Rall: Give snapping turtles a little distance when you see them
I mentioned a few weeks back about the Camo for Kids event that is taking place in conjunction with the Round Lake Sportsman’s Club Horned Trout Tournament on July 21. They are collecting new and used sporting goods and hunting clothing for a sale that day with all of the proceeds going to the Worthington Area High School Bass Fishing Team. If you have rods, reels, tackle, hunting gear or hunting clothes that you either don’t use anymore or that no longer fit — as is my case — you can drop them off at LPL Financial or Culligan Water Conditioning in Worthington. You can also drop off donations to Oak Hill Marine in Milford Iowa or Johnny’s Pub in Lake Park, Iowa. This is a great cause and an easy way to empty your closet or garage of unneeded items. Make an effort to help out this great cause. Remember to get your donation receipt for your taxes.
On a different note, there is one creature that has been showing up regularly on my wildlife rides the past two to three weeks. These are common snapping turtles making their journey to find a suitable spot to lay their eggs. They usually lay anywhere from 35 to 80 eggs per season. A snapping turtle does not reach sexual maturity until it is almost 15 years old. They can live to be over 100 years old.
This creature has been roaming the earth almost unchanged for thousands of years. They have few natural predators as adults, but as juveniles they are tasty fodder for many different types of birds and animals. Very few offspring ever reach adulthood.
You rarely see snapping turtles any other time of the year. They are solitary creatures, and live in lakes and ponds and larger streams and rivers. A female snapper can mate once and store the male’s sperm in her body for up to three years using as she needs it. This makes me think she must not get out much.
Some people will catch and eat snapping turtles, and I have tried it. It was long ago, and I really don’t remember my reaction to it. It must not have been too memorable. This turtle species has a very unique hunting method. They lay on the lake bottom with their mouths opened very wide for hours at a time. They have a small skin appendage inside their mouth that is pink in color, and they wiggle it like it's a little worm or grub. Fish species will move in to see that little wiggler as a possible meal for them, and in the process they are made the meal instead.
Snappers can live underwater without coming to the surface to breathe. In northern climates, they may not take an actual breath for more than six months. Some, in fact, will remain active all winter long under the ice covering. Other will semi-hibernate in the mud with only their head sticking out in order to take in oxygen through their skin.
I did find something that really bothered me this past weekend. In a distance of three miles, I found three different snapping turtles that were run over by a car or truck. I know this can happen, but all three of these were on the side of the road and you could see by the tire tracks that the driver intentionally moved over in order to intentionally run them over and kill them.
Now I know that there are not a lot of folks with much sympathy for a snapping turtle. I hunt certain species for food, like pheasants and ducks. People hunt deer for meat and to keep deer populations in check. There are all kinds of reasons to harvest animals. I trap raccoon and skunks in season to control their numbers for the benefit of ground-nesting birds.
The thing that puzzles me on this issue is just what harm does a snapping turtle do? They stay to themselves, and I have never heard of human being attacked by a snapping turtle. This was killing just for the sake of killing, and that does not set well with me.
Snapping turtles’ populations are very stable, and they are a species requiring no special concern. They are doing just fine, so killing three of them won’t make a difference. In my mind, wanton waste is just not a desirable characteristic. The next time you see one of these prehistoric looking creatures, give them a little distance. Just let nature do what nature does and marvel at how they have survived unchanged for thousands of years.