June 11th, 2009 - You can't park there. Oh wait, I guess you can...

I got a message from our neighbor Barb this morning saying her Aussie Shepard was trying to herd a huge snapping turtle that was burrowing by the sign across the street from their house, and that I had better get out there with my camera, pronto.
So, donning my trusty reporter's fedora and slinging my somewhat trusty Nikon around my neck, I slipped on my flip-flops and set out to check it out.
I figured snapping turtle / flip-flops, I'll live on the edge. Those war photographers don't get the good stuff unless there's an element of danger involved.
So ironically enough, it turns out she was under a "No Parking" sign. She was dug in pretty solidly and was in process of burrowing out a nest for the eggs. I would almost call it drilling. It was interesting to watch, she had started a depression by pushing off the turf with her legs, no small task, and was now holding herself up with her tail and one leg over the hole while she pretty much drilled and scooped like a steam-shovel with the other rear leg. Albeit a very slow steam-shovel. All the while giving me a look of, "If I wasn't so busy here, I'd be kicking your ass."
She'd scoop a while and rest a while, and all the time I was marvelling at the amount of work she was doing. If I had to do it with a spade the size of her foot, I'd be sweating it. Her hole was at least five inches deep. And she wasn't in the water, her natural place of residence.
I took a couple pics, and as I did I looked her over, mostly from the back as I figured she didn't need any obnoxious spectators staring her down in her time of labor.
She was old. Not just adult old, but OLD. She had a few cracks around her shell and her beak had seen some serious use. I'd heard all kinds of age ranges given for snapping turtles, we have one at Springbrook that we think is in the 30-something year old range. Data suggests that in the wild because adults have no real natural enemies, they usually live a long life and die of old age during the winter. Annual adult survivorship is 93 to 97%, and confirmed annual adult mortality ranges from less than 1 to 1.3%, which means that 60% of the individuals reaching maturity will live to age 50. (!) Unlike in any other species survivorship does not decrease with age. (!) The maximum theoretical longevity is 170 years (!), and longevities over 100 years can be expected especially in the northern populations where the activity season is shorter. (!) Lifespans of over 75 years have been observed.

There is a quote on a turtle site I was looking at that read, "Snapping turtles are creatures who are entitled to regard the brontosaur and mastodon as brief zoological fads...” and goes on to say: "Snapping turtles, as we know them today, evolved about 40 million years ago, and they are the ancestors of about 80% of all the turtles today. Today’s snapping turtles have hardly changed from 215 million years ago when Proganochelys, the most primitive turtle known, lived. In comparison, the age of the dinosaurs was approximately 150 million years ago, 100 million years more recent than the first turtle. Turtles were one of the few reptile groups which survived the impact of a six mile wide meteorite hitting the earth and the following nuclear winter about 65 million years ago, which is known as the K-T boundary."
To put things into perspective: humans have only been in existence a minuscule 3.5 million years. Audacious young pups.
Besides all of her weathering and battle scars, I noticed she was toting around a few parasitic worms in spots on the back folds of her leg tissue, probably about the only spots where something could actually attach that she couldn't get off. Nothing like a pile of parasitic worms to give you a fifty year itch you can't scratch. And we think life is hard when we get a mosquito bite.
Then of course, you get out of the water and the flies are on your parasitic worms like flies on... well, you get the idea. Talk about a world within a world within a world.
She's a tough old bird.
Another interesting thing was as I was getting back to the house, Morgan the neighbor's kid was taking in the garbage can and I asked him if he wanted to see the cool snapping turtle. He laughed and said that it was funny that it's over there now, because yesterday as they were leaving the house they noticed a snapping turtle digging a nest in the neighbor's driveway, right behind the rear tire of their car! They ended up moving her (I should have asked how they managed that) and he thought it was probably the same one as she was last seen heading in that direction. She seems to have a penchant for automobile-related objects.
As I now look out the window with the binos, it looks as though she has finished the job and moved back to the water. She did a pretty good job of tamping everything back down, and camouflaging the nest as best as possible.
Now it's up to time, temperature and the raccoons to see if the eggs will make it. Maybe we had better help her out a little. The raccoons tend to pop out of the gutter which is right down the street, and they're pretty well fed already. We'll see how it goes.
Good job, mama turtle.
So, to leave you on a happier note than a pile of parasitic worms, here's a nice fern in the morning sun of Fern Gully (our front yard) and lo and behold, the apples live again!
It is time of birth and rebirth, from the plants to the reptiles to the parasitic worms to the insects. And more...


buthidae said...

I guess the definition of "human" is a bit subjective, but critters resembling modern humans have only existed for about 300,000 years. Young pups indeed.

dignature said...

True. No wonder I act so childish most of the time.