You don’t, snapping turtles will do that for you! Seriously!

My fascination with the snapping turtle began many years ago. I’d spot them floating with their carapace just breaking the surface of the water, catching rays of the sun. This helps to bring their body temperature up to that optimum, comfortable temperature needed for their metabolism to function perfectly.

I would stop and study them at a distance, as the females dug their nests in the sand and gravel. Those large females, that after 17-20 years of age finally reached maturity to lay their eggs. You know, very few of them ever make it to that age! Its true! The survival rate of a snapping turtles nest is less than 1%.  I was thankful that these beauties lived in an area where there were few threats. No roads to cross while searching for that perfect nesting site. Too many of them are killed prematurely crossing all those roads that fragment their habitats.

Here, nesting on the trail, close to the safety of the river they were safe.

I took notice of these beady eyed dinosaurs, with that sharp-jawed beak perfectly designed to shred their food…that serpent like head and neck, giving them the scientific name Chelydra Serpentina.

The story that got me hooked and fueled my desire to learn as much as I could about this misunderstood species, and all of Ontario’s turtles was this…

It was a common snapping turtle, found in Toronto that had not moved from its spot beside a parking lot gate for three days! The Toronto Wildlife Centre was contacted on August 15th, 2009. It was discovered that the snapping turtle had injuries on its feet and on the tip of its tail. Even more serious was the discovery that it was also missing its left eye and had a cataract in its right eye.

Doctors at the TWC decided that if this turtle was to survive, they would need to operate on the cataract. He was between 50-75 years old. They can live well up to 100 years and are one of Ontario’s listed species-at-risk. Eight hours was spent performing this surgery while the turtle was sedated. He was kept at the TWC until the following spring and then released back into the wild on March 25th,2010!

            Fast forward to today!

Here I am at the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, part of the Education Program as Education Coordinator! Everyday I get to share with others the importance of Ontario’s turtles, their struggles to survive and what each of us can do to help. I get to spend my time with one incredible snapping turtle, ” Paddy”. He is the perfect advocate for his species. Many people are afraid of the snapping turtle. Together, Paddy and I show and explain to people, that we are only afraid of what we do not know.  It’s true, snapping turtles are not all warm and fuzzy, they are much more than that!

They are amazing and we can learn so much by seeing them for what they truly are!  Turtles are the heartbeat of our wetlands!

Wendy Baggs

Education Coordinator for Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre