The Return of Jaws

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SNAPPING TURTLES? A gargantuan female Chelydra serpentina stopped by here yesterday (just as one does every spring), for the sole purpose of laying eggs. I can’t say I cherish such visits. But how do you shout “Get off my lawn!” to a creature with powerful jaws and a killer instinct? (Click all photos for full effect.)

Above, my visitor laid her first batch of eggs outside the fenced-in herb garden. Snapping Turtles have powerful legs which permit them to dig deep holes in which the eggs are deposited.

After moving on to the Serpentine Garden, she laid more eggs next to a variegated hosta. If I knew how to communicate with a snapping turtle, I would have asked her to dig a few holes for my newly purchased Viburnums.

Although I loathe adult snapping turtles, I find the babies adorable. When these hatch in August, they seek out the nearest body of water. This means either the swimming pool or the fountains in the Rose Garden. As in previous years, I will rescue those I find, and carry them down to the Hudson River tributary that runs behind my property. This way they can live out their long, murderous lives.


  1. Kevin, I frequently stop my car to help snappers and other turtles out of the middle of the highway before a fast-moving car squashes them.

    Here's a trick a wildlife biologist taught me for moving snappers — not that you want to when they're laying eggs, but to pack away for the future: Take a garden tool with a long handle and without a sharp edge — shovels work well (I keep a foldaway in my car). Extend slowly toward toward the snapper's mouth and it will usually lunge and grab hold of the shovel edge. Then you can drag it carefully to its destination (if helping across a road, bring it to the side it was headed toward).

    They're ugly suckers but I find it fascinating to look at them and think about how dinosaur-like they are.

  2. Tammy – Thank you. I could never harm a snapper, either. Your tip is extraordinarily helpful.

  3. OMG – Kevin be very careful. When I went to camp as a kid my friend Myrna was bitten by a snapping turtle! The nature counselor Bob was stupid enough to lift it into our canoe and it bit Myrna's finger and wouldn't let go. The counselor had to hit it on the head with a blunt instrument (the turtle — not Myrna!) How did Lily react?? Judy

  4. Judy – How awful for your friend – and the turtle!

    Lily the Beagle was not permitted to encounter the snapper; we had our “walkies” elsewhere that day.

  5. Kevin, thank goodness I have never encountered a Chelydra serpentina. That's probably because I'm nowhere near a pond or river.

  6. cute, but I'm glad they are at your house and not mine…. I saw Lily out for a walk the other day, she looked great!

  7. Erin – you haven't lived until you've witnessed an enormous snapping turtle digging up your garden. I'll be sure to send one of my mine your way.

  8. Such is wildlife in our “citified” country life!
    I just caught (in a have a heart trap) an adult opossum under my back porch. My two terriers were going nuts! And, a good friend just rescued a fawn that had been abandoned by its mother. He fed it bottles of goat's milk fortified with pedialite! I am happy to report the fawn is up and walking and was delivered to a wildlife rescue center nearby. Looks like he'll make it! All animals need a little help from their human helpers sometimes!

  9. Sue – Great to hear about the fawn. I love all deer — babies and adults! A number of deer have visited my property — but they have all been very respectful of my gardens!

  10. lol, we seem to both be beacons for wildlife. i currently have a snapper and two mallards living in my pool. The mallards return every year…

  11. Lee Baldwin says:

    we recently released Gamera, a snapping turtle my nephew rescued as a very dehydrated hatchling 9 years ago. he grew from the size of a quarter to salad plate size in that time.
    snapping turtles don’t reach maturity until between 23-25 years old, and of the hundreds of eggs a female lays over her breeding lifetime, only about 10 will reach maturity. snapping turtles are the most primitive of the turtles & were around with the dinosaurs. it would be too bad if we wiped them out.
    Gamera was used to being handled & was very calm. he enjoyed having his shell scratched… not something i’d try with a wild one though.
    a couple more tips on moving snappers: don’t try grabbing the back of the shell. their necks are long enough to reach back, and they have really strong legs to kick with, and never pick one up by the tail! you’ll damage it’s spine.

  12. In FL we have these guys all over the place and when they come out to lay eggs you’ll see most of us stopped while they make their trip across roads. Did that just yesterday and most are so patient about waiting. They do go back year after year to a favorite nesting place which can be a pain.

  13. I just love wild animals more than anything in the world, although great architecture is a close second. Thank you for being respectful of your little dinosaur (little by dinosaur standards, not by turtle standards). The wildlife here in Boulder, Colorado, is a little discombobulated since our huge flood last month. I recently stopped to rescue a giant snapping turtle that was trying to cross a busy 4-lane road. First I stopped all the traffic — thank goodness that part went well. Then I enlisted the help of an innocent landscaper who happened to be driving by and had shovels in his truck. I showed him how to gently slide the shovel under the turtle’s belly and lift the giant reptile. I had the know-how, but this good samaritan had the brawn. Then I coaxed the landscaper across the road (he said his arms were about to break because the turtle was so heavy — and this guy was STRONG!) and toward a pond where he finally put the annoyed turtle down. What’s the old saying? Some are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them? This dear man may or may not have been born a hero, but he had heroism thrust upon him that day and he rose to the occasion. By the way, if you are helping a turtle cross the road, you have to put him on the side he’s determined to get to. You can’t turn a turtle around and point them in the other direction. It doesn’t work that way.

  14. Mama Mary says:

    Now, don’t want to offend anyone here, I love wildlife as much as anyone, but when I was a kid living in Missouri on the farm, my mom would make the most delicious fried snapping turtle! It was wonderful! We were raised fishing and hunting, went to the woods regularly to gather wild mushrooms and greens. We were considered very poor, but we had a very rich life! I probably wouldn’t go so far as to kill and cook a snapper now, but it sure is a sweet memory from the past.

  15. Kevin,
    I’ve never commented on net before, til I found yr site. Can you tell how to make a really inexpensive small 3x3ft pond? Really minimal money please?

  16. faun bonewits says:

    found very cranky snapper trying to stay on the warm road
    it had just dug its way out of hibernation
    and really did not want any help.
    they can reach almost back to their tail with those jaws
    so I wish i’d known the shovel trick-
    she was about 20″ across just really huge.

    a galopagus turtle just had her first turtle in 130 years.
    she’s been guarding it like a happy mother
    and wearing him like a hat.

    Thank you for posting about planting perennial seed for winter gardening it gives me hope while we get our first snow. it seems like i have to wait 9 months before I can do anything. I have milk weed and cone flower seeds to plant.

  17. I live in beautiful N. Central, FL… in the boonies, kinda. Well here we have these GIGANTIC Alligator Turtles, Macrochelys temminckii. They have to be one of the scariest and ugliest creatures on the planet. I don’t know of anyone stopping to help these guys, but then again, you don’t want to hit one in your car because it would probably total your car. If the collision didn’t kill you, I believe this guy would! I steer clear of these things, and while I always loved some fried snapper as a youngin, aint no way I’d try to eat one of these bad boys!

Speak Your Mind