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Need Some Trouble? It's a Snap-ping Turtle

I was born in the south. I live in the south and will die in the south. This is only a small part of the memories I share.

The Truth About Snapping Turtles Explains That

the Chelydridae are a family of turtles that has seven extinct and two extant genera. The extant genera are the snapping turtles Chelydra and Macrochelys. Both are endemic to the Western Hemisphere. The extinct genera are Acherontemys, Chelydrops, Chelydropsis, Emarginachelys, an Macrocephalochelys, Planiplastron, and Protochelydra.

Did you understand any of that scientific mumbo jumbo? I didn't and I'm not ashamed to admit that in a whole lot of things in life, I am the ignorant for it. No use deceiving anyone. It is what it is. But I did know better than to try and catalog each species and fossil description about the snapping turtles. As you can see, there are a lot of species of the snapping turtle.

 Snapping turtle at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park.

Snapping turtle at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park.

I Want to Tell

you that if you're like my thinking on this topic, I can describe a snapping turtle with three words: Old, Mean and Angry. I should know. At the tender age of 13, I met my first snapping turtle and I can report to you with a clear conscience that I was not about to try and pick this beast up with my bare hands because I knew right off, even at age 13, this was no regular terrapin which is humble, very tolerant of human beings and non-aggressive like the snapping turtle that I encountered on an old dirt road ahead of the house where I lived.

I'm just going to tell you upfront, fearful, angry, and how I felt when I was merely walking on this hot, July afternoon on this old dirt road that our landlord used to get to his cornfields in order to bring in his corn harvest. Other than the landlord using the dirt road, it was me and the turtle when we met and my parents were both at work leaving me (in a prototype of Home Alone) to be eaten alive or live for another day. I may get on a few toes, but I was far from being (a) Macaulay Culki, and in no mood to go one-on-one with this snapping turtle that was just sitting comfortably in the one big mudhole minding his own business.

That was all that I was doing was minding my own business--but I had no intention of trying to make friends with this "monster" who growled some ugly threat that sent chills up my spine. Don't believe me? Look closely on the two Snapping Turtles I have on this narrative. It would appear that "this" "snapper" was angry at the world or everyone on that certain dirt road and that meant ME! I was 13 years of age and even thought about yelling, but all I could find to hear me were the landlord's herd of swine (hogs, to rural people) feeding in a pen that ran parallel to the road where the "snapper" and I were about to square off.

I remained perfectly still. I had heard from some public service announcement on TV that if I ever encountered a poisonous snake, just stay still and do not move. That was what the voice-over said for me to do, so there I was with this big, nasty, and angry snapping turtle and although I did have a notion that he posed no real threat of injecting me with poison, so all I had to fear was that awful growling and powerful jaws he used to snap at me with the sound of an entire pack of Black Cat firecrackers. And so I just stood there in the hot summer sun--and went on to play our own version of a Mexican Stand-off. I was not a quitter and I assumed that "Snapper" was no quitter either.

I was carrying a long stick with me and why, I never knew. Guess it was a habit or something, but I had this great idea of using the little end of the stick and maybe I could make him angry enough to run away from this mudhole and just leave. I didn't want to kill him or anything else. I respected Mother Nature, but this doofus snapping turtle was NOT showing me any love or respect. Each time that I would gently nudge my stick toward him, his mouth would open and his jaws would slam shut with the end of my stick in his jaws and with each time that his jaws snapped, there went a bit of wood and I thought that if this kept on going, I would not have a stick, so I had to conceive a new plan of survival.

I did notice that each time he was going to snap at me, he would raise his body up on all four's (big shell and all) and just glare at me with those satanic-like eyes that was almost glowing with hatred for me. Someone had to make a move and that someone was me.

You would never guess what I did. I showed "snapper" my stick which was very short thanks to his jaws and laid it on the ground. I smiled at him and every movement that I made was very slow and calculating and keeping my eyes in contact with his eyes. I trusted him as much as he trusted me. And that was not much.

I slowly walked up toward the mudhole and just squatted down, but not so far as he could attack me. I was not the fool in this production. I just wanted to leave "snapper" with no hatred or bad feelings. Shoot! I would have been very happy if he and I had become friends. Like I said earlier, I did not want to kill the snapping turtle or anything else. Not even a rattlesnake. If they didn't bother me, I was not going to bother them. I was hoping that this principle would work for snapping turtles.

I didn't know exactly what to say, but I started out by saying . . .

"Uh, hey. I see that you are a snapping turtle, and well, I mean you no harm," I said in a mild tone. The turtle did hear me for when I spoke, he moved his head around like he had heard something. Maybe it was him showing me to just leave him be and let him make his own way.

"Would you like for me to just move away and let you have your mudhole? Would ya'?" he rolled his head around and then he got up again on all fours and growled at me and I did not have the stick in my hand. I told him, "buddy, I am harmless! Do not come at me!"

"If you like, I will leave my stick and just walk away from you," I said and he acted like he wanted me to just sit and not speak. I knew that I was in too deep and I had no working knowledge of speaking Turtle Language, so there I was. Just me and "snapper" and he was glaring at me as if he was getting ready to charge at me.

"Listen, 'snapper,' let me just say this to you if you are preparing to jump and snap at me . . .DON'T. I can yell really loud and I have some neighbors who live near and they would be glad to rescue me from you, "snapper," so just cool down and stay in the mudhole." I liked lied like a dog by telling him about having some neighbors who lived near me, but what he didn't know wouldn't hurt me.

Then it came time for me to, as they say, bring up the big guns. And at (this) time, I was so grateful that no clear-thinking people (with their camera's) were standing around me and "snapper," because I slowly got down on my all-fours and began a slow growl in my throat at "snapper" in hopes that "this" maneuver would scare him out of my way and out of my life.

No dice. "Snapper" didn't bother to stick his ugly head back into his shell--I knew that what he wanted was to snap at me and cut my arms to the bone sending waves of indescribable pain throughout my 13-year-old body. He just sat there in the mud and growled at me to prove that he was winning. A few of the hogs over in their pen had wandered up, purely out of curiosity, and they began watching the contest to see who would win. Well, why shouldn't they watch? Their bellies were full of hog feed and really, there was nothing of interest to do if you lived where I did in rural northwest Alabama, so it was only fair that the handful of pigs should be treated with a free show starring "snapper" and me--"Live in The Mudhole in a Road! "Snapper" versus "Kid Kenneth" Making His Debut! The contest was like man against beast and the winner would rule this dirt road. Well, this is what I shouted to "snapper" and he never made any attempt to move away.

I was out of plans. It was "snapper" or me for all the marbles. I picked up a few smooth stones and began tossing (not throwing) them into the muddy water in front of him. And there it was. His weakness. He hated the water splashing into his face, so with that juicy piece of information, I kept it going, but I had forgotten one major piece of this puzzle: I had let the afternoon fly by and my parents were always at home right on time each Monday through Friday at 4 pm.

"Ken, what you doing there?" the comforting sound of my dad's voice said. I almost cried. But I covered it well. What would my dad think if he were to see me crying because I had been bested by a snapping turtle. So I played the part of hero as much as I could.

"Ohhh, just out for a walk and uhhh, I met this snapping turtle and well, I didn't hurt him. I was just walking in the road for something to do," I said explaining to my dad who seemed a bit irked.

"You mean this?" dad said while reaching over the snapping turtle and lifting him up by the long jagged tail. I almost fainted at the bravery my dad showed on that hot summer afternoon. The snapping turtle was snapping as hard as possible and flinching to get away, but my dad just walked a few steps and sat him down in the hog pen while the pigs had lost interest and they left "snapper" to his business.

"Thank you, dad. I didn't know how to handle a snapping turtle," I said making conversation.

"That's fine, Ken. You did the right thing. Those jaws could have torn you up, so do not think that you ran from this monster. No, sir," dad said while we walked to the house to have a bite of supper (dinner to city folks).

And while my dad and mom and me were sitting eating and rehashing my snapping turtle ordeal, my mom, who cared a lot about living things, asked, "Ken, what do you reckon what happened to the turtle?"

Just like in TV shows, my dad and I said together, " who cares?" What a great day.

Interested in learning more about Snapping Turtles? You may log onto: snapping turtle

____________________________________March 12, 2018.

Frontal view of female snapping turtle--Cheldra serpentina.

Frontal view of female snapping turtle--Cheldra serpentina.

© 2018 Kenneth Avery

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