Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Giant Snapper At Last!

A common cliché in fringe anecdotes is that when eyewitnesses see something beyond belief, the camera has the lens cap on/no film/failed to work/been misplaced. Logically this should be taken as a strike against veracity... but I began to wonder otherwise when it happened to me. 

Of course, I've documented a big snapping turtle before, but my subsequent failures were astounding. I saw the turtles on multiple occasions this year (alluded to here), sometimes up close (touching, in fact) and once in triplicate. On all of these occasions I didn't bring my camera because I was commuting via bike, or the turtles fled before I could get their photographs. After a couple dozen failures, I gave up. Impulsively I decided on 8 November 2011 to take a trip searching for any reptiles or amphibians still active in the abnormally warm weather (about 70° F, 21° C) and saw this (plus a frog):

Blobturtle! I saw the turtle fairly clearly, but evidently my camera didn't. Rather than leave and be disappointed for a few months and then fail to see the turtles ever again, I realized I had no other option but to go in after it. Not only was the water very cold (it had snowed earlier in the year), it was murky and muddy and possibly had other snapping turtles I couldn't see. Gradually and with little subtlety, I made my way over to the turtle which had of course noticed me, but did not attempt to escape.

Remembering previous encounters and advice on pick-pocketing from Fagin, I approached the turtle from the rear, knowing it would eventually rotate around to defend itself. I also kept in mind how to fight the Cyberdemon from Doom - it's not just the shooting, it's the circle-strafing. With the cold water being slightly less of a hindrance for me, I managed to avoid something getting amputated. 

Getting closer, I confirmed my suspicions that, yes, this turtle is really really big.

The closest thing I could get to a measurement.

Eventually the turtle kicked up large amounts of silt and released gas (from... somewhere) and became impossible to see. I "ran" off, knowing that my luck in succeeding with this ill-conceived shenanigan was running out.

I know I'm never going to get an accurate length or weight measurement from this turtle... not without one or both of us getting hurt. Even if this specimen was a record (and there's no guarantee), it would not be worth risking the life of an old reptile to revise the SCLmax of 49.4 cm for Chelydra serpentina. From now on I'm leaving these turtles alone, my curiosity is satiated, and bothering them further will have no benefits. I'll have to live with the wonder that despite inhabiting a polluted body of water and having human hunt them and compete for their resources, things like this still exist.


Lim Leng Hiong said...

Incredible encounter.

How old do you reckon it is, to be this big?

Cameron McCormick said...

Turtles of the United States and Canada cited a study in which snapping turtles from a polluted Massachusetts marsh grew an average of 2.65 cm in strait carapace length in their 6th year and that a couple individuals averaged 4.85 cm in their 5th year. The body of water I found my turtle in also had high levels of phosphorus, which makes me wonder if it had similar conditions which were conducive to rapid growth. Even under remarkable conditions, the turtle's linear growth would probably slow substantially (it seemed large adults in the studies cited grew 1 cm SCL a year or less) so this turtle is undoubtedly still quite old. I'm not sure how old, but multiple decades seems likely.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Great info. Thanks for sharing your close encounter with the venerable old dude!

dean said...

hey cameron where did you find this guy because i love to take pictures of turtles so this would be amazing to see :)

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