Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dr. Vector drops some science

Following the recommendation of Mike Taylor and the inspirational example of Darren Naish, both limey bastards from the other side of the pond, I will post at least two entries on snapping turtles. This is the first. Try not to crap your pants with excitement.

Transcribed from an e-mail conversation on Feb. 10:

Any evidence for giant snapping turtles eating hapless swimmers? Hmm. Seriously, are you familiar with the "sport" of noodling for catfish, in which one sticks a sometimes gloved but usually bare hand up under overhanging banks of southern creeks and ponds in the hopes that a giant channel or flathead catfish will bite the hand and thereby be captured? Since the noodlers are running completely blind, and since the hollows under overhanging banks are favorite haunts for both species of snapping turtle, people occasionally get a turtle instead, and the injuries can be spectacular.

Hmm. There ought to be some web resources on this.

Noodling described; photos debunked.

Noodling as an extreme sport.

Not noodling related, but a testament to the dangerousness of snapping turtles.

I tried to find picture of people who have had fingers severed by snapping turtles. No luck so far in my exhaustive ten-minute search. There are pictures in Peter Prichard's book on the alligator snapping turtle.

I have seen and handled many common snapping turtles, and I can tell you that they are meanest creatures on the planet, and that legends of their ferocity usually come nowhere near the truth. I raised one from a hatchling to sexual maturity (carapace length of about 8 inches) and when it was younger it would frequently kill fish that were bigger than it was. The speed and power of the bite and the turtles' willingness to use it on anything that moves could hardly be exaggerated. They are my favorite living tetrapods.

That's the common snapper (Chelydra serpentina), which only gets up to a poxy 76 pounds in the wild (a National Geographic story on snappers from the late '90s has a photo of that turtle being weighed), although captive specimens have topped 90 lbs. In the 1800s it was evidently fairly common to put a captured snapper in a hogshead barrel and fatten it up for several months on table scraps. They're incredibly hardy and almost impossible to kill. I have seen big (~18 inch carapace) snappers crawling around in the creek near my cousins' house in Elma, Manitoba; I have pulled snappers out of cold, cobble-bottomed trout streams in the Ozarks; and there is a verified record of a snapper sunning itself on a frosty bank in January when the air temperature was 25 degrees F.

The alligator snapper (Macroclemys temmincki) is whole 'nuther ball of wax. Numerous verified reports of specimens over 200 lbs and with carapace lengths approaching 3 feet. Unsubstantiated reports of specimens up to 400 lbs and with carapace lengths approaching 4 feet. Any run-of-the-mill alligator snapper skull will be 8 inches across the back end, and I think the world record skull was more than 10 inches wide.

In the New World snappers range from Ecuador to Canada; the ones I saw at my cousins' place were very near the northern limit for the species. There used to be snappers in Eurasia, but they bit it back in the Pliocene. What would make snappers go extinct I can't imagine. Anyway, you guys probably have some feral populations now, since snappers can survive just about anywhere, live practically forever, have no natural enemies once they're past the hatchling stage, and can toss out up to 80 eggs a year. People are so afraid of snappers becoming established in California that it's illegal to even bring them into the state.


I'll stop now.


Blogger Okie Noodlers said...

Check out our noodling pictures. We also have a short video trailer that shows some of our 2007 season. Next year will be even bigger and better! We are the Real Deal! Okie Noodlers

7:20 PM  

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