Monday, September 15, 2014

Yet Another Snapper

I was walking around Ohio University several days ago with Olivia Brooks, who runs the Twitter account Wild Earth, a new all-around nature account. We were specifically checking out the small creek that currently runs through Emeriti Park, along the Oxbow Trail road, and out around West Green. This waterway wasn't always a small creek; this is actually the remnant of the Hocking River. The Hocking River used to cause major flooding for Athens and Ohio University. In the 1960's they began to reroute the Hocking River around the university, thereby making sure that it would not cause such major flooding in the future. What was left in the old riverbed was this tiny creek which helps feed two ponds in Emeriti Park, as well as helps divert rainwater to the Hocking River.

Ohio University Turtles
Find the turtle.
Even though the mighty river no longer flows here, the creek is still teeming with life. There's a muskrat who patrols the waters around West Green. I, along with many others, have seen Northern Watersnakes hunting for prey in the water. Many frogs call the creek home, as well as many small fish (I don't know the species present, but would love to find out). Dragonflies and damselflies patrol the skies above the creek hunting down other insects. But those aren't the only things lurking in or near the creek. This past Spring I found a hatchling Common Snapping Turtle in the creek and made a post about it. This time around, as Olivia and I were patrolling the creek, she pointed out a turtle up ahead of us.

Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina
As we got closer we saw it was another Common Snapping Turtle, a decently-sized one at that. The Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina, is the largest turtle species in Ohio. Their carapaces (the upper part of the shell) can reach lengths up to 20 inches, although 10-18 inches is the average. They usually weigh 10 to 35 pounds, although the largest wild specimen caught weighed about 74 pounds. Although we couldn't measure this individual exactly, it's carapace was about 9-11 inches long. Notice the long tail, one of the initial characteristics that might tell you you're dealing with a "snapper."

Common Snapping Turtle Ohio
I decided to get some close-up shots since he (or she) decided to just stay put as we watched him. I've never been able to inspect an adult Common Snapping Turtle so closely, so I definitely jumped on the chance to do so. This species has a large head with a pointy snout, as you can see above. Notice how rough the skin is around the neck. Also notice the black streaks around the eye. The eyes actually have similar markings, helping add to the camouflage. This camouflage not only helps to protect the individual from would-be predators (although an adult does not have many predators), but also helps it to be a better predator. Adults typically employ a "wait and ambush" technique when hunting. They will sit in the water without moving in an attempt to look like just another part of the creek or pond bed. Whenever some sort of prey gets close, they will lunge out and grab it. This species is opportunistic and will eat just about anything it can get, whether it be fish, insects, birds, or even small mammals. 

Common Snapping Turtle Tail
Another interesting aspect of the turtle that many people don't get to see is the serrated backside of the carapace. The carapace is also keeled, meaning it has raised, pointed parts of the shell. These are very pronounced when the turtle is young, but tend to wear down as they get older. An old individual might appear to have a flat carapace. The individual we found still had the keels present, but they were not overly pronounced. As a result, I would say this individual is probably between 5 and 15 years old. (Also to note, unlike box turtles and tortoise species, you cannot count the rings on their carapace scales to determine the age.) Dr. Sue, one of the professors at OU who specializes in turtles and turtle reproduction, said she had seen this individual a few years back, so it's definitely been hanging out in the creek and ponds. It makes me wonder if the hatchling I found earlier this Spring is the offspring of this individual. I am pretty sure there is at least another larger individual that lives in one of the ponds at the Emeriti Park as well.

As you probably know, Common Snapping Turtles are not a species you want to mess with. They are very aggressive out of water, and typically much more relaxed in water; however, even in water they can and will hurt you if it perceives you as a threat. Honestly, just don't touch these guys. There's really no safe place you can touch them, as their neck is extremely flexible and can reach just about anywhere on their body. If you see one, give it space.

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