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They are called snappers for a reason

August 11, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

SNAPPERS are found fairly often, most often in random situations. While fishing at an area pond, lake or river, coming across this reptile would be expected. If, however, you were several miles from the nearest creek or body of water, you might ask "what in the world is this turtle doing so far from water?" Today's photo of the common snapper was just such an incident, far from water, along a gravel road, where the adjacent habitat was corn and bean fields. This scribe's theory is the turtle got to this location on its own and I'm sure it can navigate back to wherever it came from on its own. I made several photographic images and went on my way. I'm sure the turtle did the same.

They are highly aquatic. They like warm, shallow, wet areas and water, and they like to hide in bottom muds with only their eyes and nostrils exposed. Snappers eat invertebrates, carrion, aquatic plants, fish, birds and small mammals. They are excellent swimmers. Research tests have shown that a snapper displaced over two miles from its home site returned within several hours just by swimming. On land, a return trip would take much longer but still result in the same outcome.

Turtle stories are numerous. But the one I remember most vividly was the time I visited with a fisherman at Green Castle many years ago. We chatted and he showed me his fishing license. All was in order. Now it was time to concentrate on the task at hand, fishing. That is when I noticed the man was missing part of a finger. Before I could ask about his missing digit, he volunteered that fishing can be dangerous. I had to ask why.

Article Photos

Big and nasty tempered, a Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina), peeks out from its protective armored shell to survey its surroundings. As its name implies, this turtle can be found just about anywhere in the eastern two-thirds of the United States and southern Canada. Extreme care must be taken if handling a snapper. They are very strong. Their heads and necks can be extended quite far to reach for and grab (snap) prey. Enjoy today’s close-up photo knowing that at least this snapper can’t bite.

"It had been several years in the past," the man said. "My fishing tackle started to move away slowly. I grabbed my gear and eventually pulled a large snapping turtle to shore. Seeing that the hook was not completely swallowed, and only slightly imbedded at the edge of the turtle's mouth, I thought I could easily dislodge the hook and let the turtle go." The fisherman then said his plan backfired big time! A quick extension of the turtles head, neck and open jaws found the fleshy portions of this man's finger and clamped down. The fisherman's instinctive reaction to pull his hand away from trouble made matters worse. A badly mangled finger was the result. According to the fisherman, doctors determined the best course of action in this case was removal of the lower half of that finger. That was a hard, expensive and painful lesson about the power of nature's critters. Be careful out there while having fun fishing.


Snapping turtles are not going to run out of food anytime soon. This year's hot weather and drought conditions are lowering water levels in ponds and making low waters too warm for dissolved oxygen. Algae blooms are growing and that in itself uses more oxygen at night. Fish die, lots of them. For one area farm pond owner, he was surprised at the number of 5 to 6 pound bass and lots of other fish that went belly up recently in his pond. He also has snapping turtles in all nearby waters. Dead fish are on the menu for snapping turtles. The turtles are going to get very big as they chow down on free food- dead fish. It is a good thing that Mother Nature has some critters that will eat rotten, dead fish. It is called recycling.


IOWA STATE FAIR dates are Aug. 9 to 19. While lots of activities and 4-H and FFA show projects may dominate the reason to attend the fair, there is a wide array of other things to see, do and have fun at during this traditional event. Iowa's DNR building, with its many conservation displays, is just one attraction. Within the DNR building are its fish aquariums with lots of representative species of fresh water fish of all kinds. This is always a must see attraction precisely because the aquariums allow people to see what is otherwise only a mystery of what lurks under the surface of Iowa lakes, rivers and ponds. Now one can study and see what those finny critters really look like.

Turtles will be there too. Common snapping turtles will sit in their temporary enclosure behind thick glass while people lean up close to the glass to look a snapper in the eye, safe from any sudden strike. The snapper will look mean just by being what it is, and somehow that communication to 'stay away' is easily understood by people. If you go to the state fair this year, find the snapping turtle display and look really close at one of nature's great creations. They are called snappers for a reason.


EAGLES have stories to tell us. Remote, tree-mounted cameras last winter and spring recorded, in real time, the nest site of a nesting pair of bald eagles near the Decorah fish hatchery. The whole world watched as three eggs were laid and carefully attended to. The whole world watched as three eaglets hatched. The whole world watched as each little bird got fed and protected by its parents. And the whole world watched as they grew into eagle "teenagers" who were trying to learn how to become self-supporting eagles while still begging for food from mom and dad. Eventually their growth into adult-sized birds would take over. Another generation of eagles was flying and learning to support themselves.

The nest cameras have been turned off as of June 30. Repairs and new camera options are being planned for next year. We learned from those cameras that eagles are active at night. We might think eagles just perch somewhere all night long and only become active in the daytime. Wrong. Life is tough for a big bird of prey. Survival demands it use all of its abilities to keep life flowing for itself and the new eaglet family.

A solar powered satellite transmitter has been installed on one of this year's young eagles. It has adapted to the fit of its high-tech device quite well. With luck, scientists will learn more and write another chapter in the book by following this eagle over its future, thousands-of-miles- long journeys. We will be watching. The whole world will be watching. I hope you will watch too.

The Decorah eagle nest is growing huge and heavy. The raptor center folks are going to apply for a permit to remove the top one-third (or more) of the accumulated nest sticks and debris. Why? To reduce the weight of the nest bulk so as not to jeopardize the strength of the tree to hold it. If this plan works, the eagles will not care. Each year they add new sticks, branches and twigs as part of the pair bonding process for the new season. Since the urge to return to the former nest site is so strong, the eagle pair should adapt well and go about housekeeping next year as if nothing happened. New cameras will be watching. And we, the public all over the world, will be watching too. I hope you are one of the more than 270 million Internet watchers that did watch last year.


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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