Monday, June 22, 2009
Summer Solstice Snapper
Yesterday Charlie was sitting at the dining room table writing a paper for a class he's taking and he looked up and noticed a big piece of something in the road. As he watched, the big piece of something made its way across the road and into the yard of the abandoned house next door.
He and the cats went out to check it out and discovered a large common snapping turtle looking for someplace to lay her eggs. There are a lot of sandy spots closer to the river than our yard so it was surprising to see a turtle prowling around. It's been a very, very rainy Spring/Summer and it could be that all of the lower spots close to the river were too wet. Who knows, but in 100 days, I'll be watching for a crop of baby snapping turtles trying to find their way to the river.
I had been off visiting my parents during the turtle invasion and when I got home Charlie had the kitties safely inside and was outside watching it. He dubbed it the summer solstice snapper.
From what I have read about snapping turtles, the mother will travel great distances from her muddy bottom home to find the right spot to lay her eggs. Once she finds the right spot, she will moisten the ground with her urine, dig the hole with her powerful hind legs, lay her eggs and then smooth the nest out by sliding over it with her smooth underside (plastron). Apparently, this nesting time is dangerous for everyone involved. Racoons and foxes often dig up the nests and eat the eggs and mother turtles traveling from their safe water homes must cross roads exposing themselves to predators and cars and cajun cooks looking for the title ingredient in turtle soup.
I was able to watch the turtle for a little while as she made her way to wherever she was going. She had a very long tail that was thick at the base (apparently the thick part of the tail is the tastiest meat for turtle soup afficionados). When she would stop and stretch out her neck it was very long. She could draw both the thick part of her tail and her head deep inside her shell.
Snapping turtles mothers (like queen honeybees) can hold the sperm inside of them for more than one season, releasing it when necessary to fertilize her eggs. A few weeks ago, Seabrooke wrote a very interesting piece about snapping turtle eggs here.
So, one hundred days takes us to late September--not very much time for the little turtles to make it to the river and burrow into the mud before the winter.