Sunday, September 10, 2006

Crikey! This snapping turtle has lightning reaction time and powerful, crushing jaws!

Well, maybe some day. Meanwhile, I'm going to let him hang out in a tank on the kitchen counter through the winter and see how he does. I figure that, by next summer, he'll be about 2/3 the size of a hockey puck and will have gotten to the point where I'd have to invest in real equipment and start to worry about those jaws.

Fortunately, since these guys genuinely operate on a reptilian brain and nothing else, you can't really do much to interfere with their survival instincts. If I put him in a pond where the things that move are edible, he'll be fine. And snapping turtles also eat things that haven't moved in several days. They're not finicky. I also have a pretty good sense of the odds of a hatchling making it through the first week, never mind the first year of life. I don't think I'm going to be significantly messing with his fate.

A number of years ago -- that number being 21 -- I had a girlfriend with a pet snapping turtle named Roland who was about the size of your hand, as long as you were careful and kept him away from your hand. Otherwise, he would be somewhat larger than your hand.

Roland lived in a tank by her back kitchen door, in about three inches of water and gravel. She'd buy feeder goldfish and put them in his water, where they would swim around what appeared to be a large rock. Then there would be a splash but you wouldn't actually see his head move. What you would see was goldfish scales floating in the water and a bit of fishtail hanging out of Roland's mouth.

When it was time to clean his tank, I would hold Roland up between finger and thumb at the very back of his shell while she rinsed out the tank. He would occasionally crane his neck around to see what was holding him and I would marvel at the length and flexibility of that neck, just as I would marvel at his reaction speed when he was fed. Not a comforting combination, and considering that Roland never gave the slightest inclination that he even knew who we were, much less any sense of being nice to the source of his food, I really couldn't see the point. I'm curious to see how this little fellow grows and behaves, but I doubt I'll feel bad about releasing him when the time comes.

Incidentally, in researching the proper care of snapper hatchlings, I found a very detailed web site by someone who really understands reptiles, with specifications about the type of filter and the various light bulbs and calcium supplements and so forth. It was starting to look like it would cost more to keep a turtle than a dog.

Then I found another web site by a woman who apparently keeps turtles in tanks throughout her house. She was a lot more laid back about the process. Roland lived in about the opposite of all the conditions the expert laid out, but it sounded quite a bit like the conditions she discussed.

We're going with the second option.


ronnie said...


Now Mojo wants one.

Does s/he have a name yet?

And how does one sex snapping turtles, anyway?


Mike said...

I was thinking that, if I call him "Toro" he might be more gentle, because he wouldn't realize he's really a Snapper.

(Heh heh. Just poulan your leg!)

I'm not sure how to sex a snapping turtle other than very, very carefully. Which is to say, I've decided he's a boy because it isn't likely to matter.

Mike said...

And by the way, I can't think of a worse combination than a mid-sized snapping turtle and a curious cat.

Anonymous said...

I suppose you think he's small and quiet enough to come visit. MVNY Retiree