Eastern Snapping Turtle

Eastern Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina

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While performing plant survey work for a federal client near Indian Head on Chicamuxen Creek (Charles County, MD), Dave and I came across a female snapping turtle, preparing to lay eggs.

Snapping turtles are Maryland’s largest freshwater turtle and can weigh up to 40-pounds, with a shell length of between 8 to 14-inches.  They have a long tail with three rows of tubercles (spikes), reminiscent of dinosaurs.

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Snappers are carnivorous and eat fish, frogs, ducklings and other turtles.

Peak egg laying is in June, as females find the best soil substrate away from the water and lay one clutch ranging from 20 to 75 eggs, resembling ping pong balls.

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In this photo, the turtle is seen using her back legs to dig, and then her tail is used to fan the loose soil to the sides, creating a pit for a nest.  Once the eggs are deposited, she then covers the nest with soil.

Hatching turtles then emerge from the nest in 9 to 18-weeks, and are the size of between a quarter and silver dollar.

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Known for being bad-tempered, beware of the “snap” of its powerful jaws, as it explosively extends its long neck when threatened.  Any closer, and my Nikon lens may have been chomped.  I think I had the advantage, as I caught her in the most vulnerable of times, during the intimacy of egg-laying.

We are sure that this turtle did not appreciate our presence, right at the time she was about to lay her eggs, and then bury them back with soil.  I bet she moved to another location, as we disturbed her.  Interesting observation from the field, worth sharing.

 

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