I’m not an expert. I’m just a girl who loves snapping turtles.
VIDEO: How to move a snapping turtle...or not
I’m not an expert. I’m just a girl who loves snapping turtles. They are living contradictions. They’re prehistoric looking but they’re almost dainty as they walk across a road with their necks outstretched. And while they live for a long time (up to 47 years), they spend most of their time doing pretty much nothing.
I hate to see them get killed on our roads, especially since they can’t move fast enough to get out of our way. So, at this time of year, when female turtles are headed from wetlands to dry land to lay their eggs, I drive extra slowly so I can spot and rescue them. As I said, I’m not an expert so I’m not advocating other people do what I do. But, I can always hope, right?
Having said that, there are ways to move a snapping turtle and ways not to move a snapping turtle.
The first rule of thumb is this: Don’t move a turtle if the traffic would make it dangerous for you to do so. Call your local animal control officer or animal rescue organization.
The second rule is: Be careful. Snappers can be aggressive on land. There’s no doubt about it. This turtle has a long neck that can swivel pretty far around, and it can open its mouth wide enough to get around your arm.
If you decide you’re going to move a turtle, follow this rule: Move it in the same direction it was heading when you found it. If you push it back off the road, it will just turn around and continue on its mission when you’re gone. Russell Hopping, an ecologist with the Trustees of Reservations, says turtles go back to the same sites year after year. You can’t sidetrack them.
If the turtle is small, you have a couple of options, Hopping says. If the turtle is smaller than a dinner plate, you can pick it up by the tail. Or, you can use a shovel to scoop it up. You could also use the shovel to push a bigger turtle across a road.
What I do with the bigger snappers, which can be up to 35 pounds, is grab the shell right behind the head and right above the tail, and I carry her away from my body so she can’t scratch me. She’s got quite the set of claws for digging a nest. You have to get a good grip, though. Last week, I moved a 20-pounder across Route 97 on the Beverly/Wenham line, but she was thrashing about a little bit and she slipped out of my hands just as I got to the other side.
For some reason, my brother Kevin, who lives in Ipswich, often comes across snappers in the road. We joke now that during the spring he has to put on his turtle suit. He told me that the first snapper he moved was pretty big. He couldn’t figure out how to pick it up, and in the end, he said, “I went for the power grab.” He just picked it up, hugged it tight and moved it…quickly. He could do that — he’s an ex-Marine.
Hopping says June is the biggest month for turtles moving to lay eggs. (The season runs mid-May to mid-July.) The best way you can help turtles is to slow down when you’re driving on roads that have a pond, river, brook or freshwater marsh nearby. That way, you can avoid hitting them. In some communities, Hopping says, people put up signs that say “turtles crossing.” Although the signs have to come down at the end of the season, they are a good way to educate the public about where turtles are apt to cross roads.
Yes, driving slow is an inconvenience … for us. We have places to go. But, turtles do, too. And, they don’t have any choice but to go slow. If we aren’t able to move them across roads, let’s at least let them walk safely across.
Wendall Waters is the editor of the Beverly Citizen and an Ipswich resident. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.