Last week when I was at VINS, the grassy slopes were covered with dozens of newly hatched snapping turtles. About the size of a half dollar coin, they were hastily heading toward the Ottaquechee River which was invisible from the nest sites.
There are at least 2 snapping turtle nest sites on the lawns at Upper Valley Aquatic Center (UVAC). I watched the females lay the eggs back in June. Mid September is the time most snapping turtles hatch in these parts. But I haven’t seen any action here at UVAC yet. If the eggs do not hatch, they stand little chance of surviving the winter. Most turtle nests are only 6 inches or so deep in the ground. The frost will penetrate deeper than that, most likely ending the turtles’ life cycle.
Snapping turtles were around during the time of dinosaurs and have changed little in the ensuing 150 million years. They are among the few creatures which can live in significantly polluted environments, even sewer systems! *
How did snapping turtles get their name? Unlike other turtles they are unable to fully draw their legs and head into their shells. Evolution has given them strong jaws to protect themselves if threatened; hence the name “ snapping” turtle. Yet snapping turtles are considered docile creatures except during mating and egg laying season. Once the carapace reaches 3 inches in length, there are few natural predators: hence the docile nature.
If you see tiny turtles scrambling about, give them a lift to the nearest body of water. All snapping turtles will be hibernating by mid-October until next May, when the cycle begins anew.
* Graham TE, Perkins RW 1976 Growth of the common snapping turtle, Chelydra s. serpentina, in a polluted marsh. Maryland Herp. Soc. Bull. 12:123-125
By Zooey Zullo, Operations Director, Upper Valley Aquatic Center