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Turtle named Crunch didn’t disappoint

January 15, 2011

There are turtles and then there are really big turtles. So it was last weekend while perusing the aisles of the Iowa Sportsman's Outdoor Show in Des Moines that I walked past a huge water tank with an alligator snapping turtle inside. There was another big clue that something neat was inside the tank, throngs of people who couldn't believe what they were seeing. But there it was, a massive turtle that does not live in Iowa. In fact, people who live where this species exists hardly ever see it.

A native of the southeast parts of the USA and the Mississippi River valley, this relic from the ages of dinosaurs is a survivor. Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) is one of the largest fresh water turtles in the world. It is named in honor of Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck. However, the nick name 'Crunch' seems appropriate when one looks at its massive 9 inch wide head and huge jaws.

We have its cousin in Iowa, the common snapping turtle. While our snappers are hibernating deep in a pond bottom at this time of year, alligator snappers live in warmer climates. Still they are underwater critters. The males never leave the water after they hatch from a golf ball sized egg. Females will only crawl upon the land to lay eggs, and then they return to swamps, marshes and big water environments to lay in wait for fish.

Article Photos

An Alligator Snapping Turtle was a crowd drawer at the recent Iowa Sportsman’s Outdoor Show last weekend at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. A special wheeled tank helps the owner, Rusty Reed, of Blackwater Turtle Refuge out of Churubusco, Indiana; take his educational exhibit to the people. The turtle’s goes by the name ‘Crunch.’ Crunch is at least 150 years old and weighs 165 pounds.

The diet of an alligator snapper is just about anything it can grab. Fish mostly make up its food list which it obtains by flicking a little worm-like appendage inside its lower jaw. With the jaws held wide open, the fleshy worm-like attractant pulls in fish to investigate. It will be the last thing the fish does. Other foods include dead fish, the rotting carcass of any animal that is underwater, invertebrates, amphibians, snakes and even other turtles. They have been documented eating small alligators too.

As a sideline to this turtle story, the City of Churubusco, Ind. is known as Turtle Town, USA. Each year they have a celebration with events, a parade, special activities and all of its themes revolve around turtles. There will be anything 'turtle' a merchandiser would want to sell at Turtle Days. For this Indiana City, it all dates back to a time when a local resident spotted a giant turtle in a nearby lake.

The landowner, a Mr. Gail Harris, spent considerable time and money in an attempt a capture the turtle. Well, he lost and the big turtle won. The big turtle was nick-named Oscar. Oscar live on in legend and that is how the 4 day long turtle festival and Turtle Town came to be.

I find it interesting how every community has its own marketing theme for annual celebrations. Marshalltown has Oktemberfest, Conrad has Black Dirt Days, Melbourne has Mouse Hole Days and State Center comes in with its Rose Festival. Anywhere one might go, the story is repeated. Wildlife related themes are common in many cities. Our heritage and connection to the natural world is more common than we think. Someday I'm going to stop and pay a visit to Turtle Town.


This winter's list of indoor cabin fever busters is getting longer by the day. Take time to visit the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm to view Mark George's photo display of "Feathered Friends." These are excellent photos of many species of birds captured in natural settings.

Here are some dates to mark on your calendar. Feb.11-12 is the All-Canada Show to be offered this year at Clive, a suburb of Des Moines, at the Seven Flags event center. All-Canada exhibits have a wide variety of resorts offers whereby you can investigate and book a fishing or hunting excursion. Plus there are plenty of other displays about our northerly neighbors and their natural resources. They absolutely depend upon new and repeat customers to come to Canada for vacations.

February 19 at Marshalltown's KC Hall is the local chapter of Whitetails Unlimited banquet. Great prizes and auction items await. Tickets are available from Dennis Balmer, Tim Shibe, Brad Wall, Doug Cowan or Brad Larson.

The Iowa Deer Classic is slated for Feb. 25-27 in Des Moines. This is always a big draw of people who marvel at what the Hawkeye state can produce. Hundreds of the best whitetails will be on display in addition to several hundred exhibitors and their wares.

March 3 and 4 is the annual Spring Banquet for the Iowa Bowhunter's Association in West Des Moines. That same weekend is the local Izaak Walton League's Sports Show at the Coliseum in Marshalltown.

March 12 is the DUCKS UNLIMITED membership banquet at the Regency Inn at Marshalltown. Stay tuned for more details as these dates get closer.


A friend told me a short but true story. A display of deer mounts made from illegally taken deer in Minnesota was put together by Minnesota game wardens. They called it the "Hall of Shame" instead of Hall of Fame. They took it to sports shows and other functions to help illustrate the theft of Minnesota fish and game, and to help educate the public about what they can do to help. Well, the entire display was stolen recently from its storage area near St. Paul. It is gone, along with lots of tools and other items belonging to the forestry section. Obviously, this investigation is ongoing.


Iowa game wardens are still busy wrapping up activities from this past fall. Iowa's TIP line, a special telephone line to report illegal activities, 1-800-532-2020, is credited with beginning several of the investigations that helped catch the bad guys. Several Louisiana men are a lot poorer after pleading guilty to hunting deer in Iowa without licenses and over baited sites. Several Audubon men went raccoon hunting via illegal means. They lost hunting equipment and hunting privileges for several years.

Iowa's TIP program, which stands for Turn In Poachers, is a confidential 24 hour on-duty phone line to report wildlife related crimes. Callers can remain anonymous as they provide the details of who, where and when to law enforcement. Cases that result in convictions may have cash rewards available to the TIP caller. It is a system that works.


BALD EAGLE viewing times and programs have been updated by the DNR. For us in central Iowa, the Saylorville date is Feb. 27. Saylorville dam and lake is north of Des Moines. And Lake Red rock near Pella is another activity. This date is March 4 and 5 with indoor programs at Pella Central College. Call 641-828-7522 for details. Here in the Marshalltown area, look for eagles near Center Street, Sand Lake, Furrow Access and Three Bridges. The fact is that an eagle can be seen almost anywhere in the county. Just keep a sharp eye for a big bird with a white head and tail.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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