You may be surprised to find out that turtles, especially snapping turtles, are essential for our human health.
Here are a few surprising facts about snapping turtles that you must know before you take any action against these creatures:
- If you remove turtles, especially snapping turtles from your lake, you can expect to eventually succumb to some unpleasant illnesses or issues such as jock-itch! This is because turtles, but especially snapping turtles, are the creatures in water that can be considered the best at cleaning the water: They remove dead and decaying bodies of fishes, frogs, and other creatures from the lake. They are like turkey-vultures of the lake. Without turtles in your lake, the bacteria levels will increase. In fact, the older larger turtles eat mostly seeds, vegetation and dead matter. It is the younger turtles that require more protein as they grow that consume live fish and may take a duckling. Also, snapping turtles, like all turtles must remain in their territories to survive- moving them can lead to their death. Turtles make a mental map of their territories at a young age, and cannot make new maps as they get older- and they use the earth's magnetics to navigate to north, and the sun for east and west. They are so good at knowing their territories that they will hibernate within 1m of the year before. Moving them, therefore means they will wander lost and may not find hibernation sites, and often the stress will result in them ceasing to eat.
- Because turtles prefer dead smelly or fishy meals, you do not smell attractive at all to turtles. They have little interest in biting you, eating you or harming you when they are in the water. We have heard of a few stories of people dangling feet over docks or kicking turtle when swimming, and have heard of a few cases where turtles may then snap at the person, but snapping turtles, while giving a sharp bite CANNOT BITE OFF A GROWN PERSON'S DIGIT! This is because snapping turtles in Canada do not have enough strength in their jaws to break through bone or even ligaments. Their jaw strength is not as strong as human's. Alligator snapping turtles in the southern United States grow extremely large and may exert enough pressure to do this, but it is very unlikely that the ones in Canada reach sizes large enough to exert the pressure to break through ligaments and bones. Snapping turtles may bite in water if they associate your dock with food; if you have been fishing off the dock regularly, and then dangle a digit or limb it is possible that the turtle will mistake it for food. However, it is easy to change the turtles habitats; simply swim in the area so the turtle can see the entire human is not food, and of course, stop fishing from that location...at least for a while.
- In fact, snapping turtles are actually gentle, shy and somewhat curious creatures when they are in the water. This is because here, they are top predators and can swim very well. Here, they have nothing to fear and they are not vulnerable. In fact, we sent our staff to swim with the snappers and give them a pet... and have heard of and witnessed many other individuals swimming next to, standing on, and petting a snapping turtle in the water and they were not startled or defensive at all. People have been swimming safely next to snapping turtles in Ontario's lakes for centuries...they simply may not have known it.
Our staff swimming with snappers
While we do NOT CONDONE FEEDING Turtles, we have linked to this video (one of many that show how gentle the turtles are and that their bite cannot really cause harm:
- Snapping turtles snap on land because they are the only turtles that do not have a sufficiently large plastron (an under-carriage- and in fact it is very small) and therefore they cannot hide or tuck in like other turtles. Therefore the only way they can protect themselves while on the land is to snap. However, like other turtles, snapping turtles are actually afraid of humans on land and only snap in defense when they feel threatened...they would prefer to retreat or for you to retreat out of their way.
- Snapping turtles are a protected species. Harming a snapping turtle has carried large fine of up to $25,000. Harming a turtle includes moving a turtle from your lake. Turtles live in territories that they have imprinted in their minds when very young. They cannot replace this "mind map" and moving them may mean that they cannot find feeding grounds, hibernation sites, or mating areas. Moving turtles away from their homes can compromise their ability to survive.
- Snapping turtles, like other turtles, live for more than 100 years and in fact there is evidence that they can live more than 400 years. They need to live a long time because it takes more than 60 years on average for a turtle to replace itself- Less than 1% of turtle eggs survive and make it to adulthood. Adult turtles are the most important members of a population because there are fewer natural threats to them. Adults therefore can help sustain populations by recruiting many more offspring in their lifetime. However, because of human fear and predation, pet trades and now more than ever, road traffic, turtle populations are declining rapidly and may never rebound. This means the health of our lakes and our drinking water is also at risk.
- Turtles, especially snapping turtles are agents of biodiversity; in addition to cleaning detritus from waters, they spread seeds that grow into plants that support fish nurseries and wetland ecosystems. More than 70% of fish and wildlife in Ontario rely on these areas to survive. Turtles are like the birds of the water. Without them our wetlands and fish nurseries would diminish.
- Turtles are sacred creatures. They are as old as the dinosaurs. It is said that turtles were around when God created the world, and they witnessed all of Creation. Turtles are a symbol of Truth. The earth was created on the turtle's back and is referred to as Turtle Island. Each turtle has 13 scutes (triangles) on its shell representing the 13 moons in each year. Each turtle has 28 ridges around its shell, representing the 28 days between moons.
Everyone has a turtle story.
Helping turtles means helping ourselves. Think twice before you harm our environment.