One of the most misunderstood creatures to swim in our waters is the prehistoric-looking snapping turtle. They are vilified as fish killers and stalked by pond owners throughout North America. Never was there a creature more undeserving of it's reputation than this one. The truth of the matter is...."A pond is healthier with the presence of snapping turtles, than one without them"
Don't get me wrong here, I am all for hunting in a responsible manner. Ethical hunters do not feel the need to torture or to be cruel to the game they are after. Any animal that is killed should be done so quickly and humanely with the ideology that the meat will be consumed. Killing to be killing is not hunting that is blood sport perpetrated by individuals of questionable moral standards. Anyone who can enjoy watching an animal being tortured and left to die is without compassion for living creatures and lacks understanding and knowledge of the ways of the natural world. Each creature serves a purpose, even if we don't fully know what that purpose is.This event is held annually in Ohio County, Indiana at a place called Campshore Campground. This is a family campground where people spend their vacations. Children are running around playing, swimming, fishing and riding their bikes and being exposed to animal cruelty. Is it no wonder we as a society question the moral integrity of our youth? How could it be beneficial to expose impressionable children to something so heinous as this? What are we teaching our youth? That we have dominion over all living creatures? That we decide who or what has the right to live or die? That being cruel in the name of fun is ok? Then we punish these same children for torturing the neighbors cat. Seriously people, wake up! If we want to raise gentler more understanding youth, they first have to see us behave in such a manner.
A much better alternative is to teach our young people the importance of all animals to the ecosystems where they live. We have a small wetland on the land we own and each spring the frogs, toads and turtles use it as a breeding location. My niece loves to come over and explore and catch the toads and frogs. She is learning to identify frogs and toads by sound as well as sight. She is learning patience and persistence and most importantly she is learning to love and respect nature. Last year her and her mother were mucking around in the shallow water looking for toads when a large snapping turtle startled them. I was at the house at the time so they called me to come "rescue" them. I was happy to help and showed them how to safely handle the turtle. I explained how harmless they are unless you seriously harass them. They were fascinated by this ancient-looking turtle.
Common Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina)
reach weights up to 35 or 40 pounds and lengths up to 14 or 15 inches. However they are capable of attaining much larger sizes.
They have a big pointy head and sharp beak-like mouth that has the
potential to snap off a toe or finger. They have an amazingly long neck,
therefore holding them by the sides of the shell like you would other
water turtles is not advised. They can with little difficulty reach
their neck around to the side of their shell and bite your hand. Their
carapace (shell) can be brown, tan or almost black. Because of their
aquatic nature and the fact that they swim along the bottom of ponds,
rivers and lakes it is not uncommon to see them covered in mud or algae.
Their plastron (underside bony plate) is usually yellowish in color. It
can be difficult to tell males from females, males are almost always
smaller than females. Each turtle has an opening at the rear called a
cloacal, this opening is used for mating, eliminating waste and for egg
laying. In males the opening will be further out from the plastron than
the females will be.
These turtles survive our cold bitter winters by burrowing into the mud at the bottom of ponds, lakes and rivers. Although it is not unheard of to see them moving about under the ice along the shore of their frozen home. They become active again in March and remain so until November (weather permitting). Besides feeding on aquatic vegetation and weakened fish, they will also eat frogs, crawfish, insects, worms, snakes, birds and small mammals. Another erroneously belief held by many is that these turtles kill significant amounts of waterfowl young. This is simply not true, at least not in normal conditions. In artificial ponds where waterfowl and fish production are enhanced and the population of these turtles is too high then this species can become a nuisance. Those types of situations are certainly not the norm.
Our local herpetologist has been doing an ongoing study/survey of the aquatic turtle population on MWSU campus. There are nine ponds on the campus and he and his students set turtle traps out to capture turtles and record data. They are hoping to learn more about the traveling habits of these turtles as well as the overall health of the turtles and the ponds. Last year some vandals damaged one of the nets before he was able to check it and two turtles drowned. We were all sickened by it, but the turtles were ultimately used to dissect and check for parasites and to determine the gut content. This was a rare opportunity for us to get a closer look at the diet of the campus turtles. We discovered they were parasite free (with exception to a few nematodes) and that their diet was close to 85% vegetation.