Snapping turtle in garden path beside onion bed, June 16, 2020, 7:45 a.m. Photo: Judy Isacoff

NATURE’S TURN: Appearance and disappearance of a long-tailed turtle

The wonderful turtle (most likely a female) showed no sign of being aware of my presence, but her legs and feet gave the impression of being frozen in motion.

June 29 – July 12, 2020

Mount Washington — Snapping turtle females (Chelydra serpentina) are most likely to be encountered from May into early July, typically lumbering across a road on their way from a pond or lake to dry ground to lay eggs. They may also be seen traversing fields and forests. Males travel cross-country as well, in search of a mate or new habitat.

Perambulating in my garden one morning two weeks ago, I noticed a pile of dug-up soil with scraps of uprooted comfrey plants along a foot and a half of fence. I looked for signs of an opossum, a rabbit or small groundhog. The only other disturbance was a roughed-up seedbed that I had left raked smooth the day before. After replanting the comfrey, I walked to the middle of the garden, intent on repairing the seedbed. Gazing forward and lifting my head from the ground, the vision of a gigantic turtle formed in my eyes. Aha! What a wildly unexpected, prehistoric spectacle!

The wonderful turtle (most likely a female) showed no sign of being aware of my presence, but her legs and feet gave the impression of being frozen in motion. Remaining still, she allowed me to approach and look very closely at her ornately carved and scalloped 14-inch carapace, long reptilian tail, and into her beady eyes. How did Chelydra (from the Greek for tortoise) serpentina (from “serpentis,” Latin for snake, referring to the snapper’s long tail) get in? I left her to find her way out.

Close-up of carapace and tail of snapping turtle in garden path, June 16, 2020, 8:16 a.m. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Upon my return hours later, she was gone from the path. Scouring the perimeter of the garden, however, I found her cornered in vegetation on a far fenced boundary. Clearly, the loose edge at the bottom of the wire mesh enclosure had allowed her to muscle through for one-way entry but did not yield allowing exit. I bent up a short stretch of mesh to make an opening and then left, expecting the long-tailed turtle would discover the way out. She was gone by evening. There is a pond 200 feet downslope. I have not found a clutch of eggs anywhere nearby.

“How to Help a Snapping Turtle Cross the Road” courtesy of Toronto Zoo via Tufts University Wildlife Clinic:

Resources

*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgd_B6iKPxU&feature=youtu.be and https://wildlife.tufts.edu/found-wildlife/sick-injured-reptile-amphibian/snapping-turtle/
https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Fact-Sheets/Common-Snapping-Turtle
http://archive-srel.uga.edu/outreach/ecoviews/ecoview080518.htm
https://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/reptiles/turtles/eastern-snapping-turtle/eastern_snapping_turtle.php

Opportunities to participate

Berkshire Botanical Garden, Stockbridge, announces grant-funded free admission on Sundays and Mondays and admission at half price ($7.50) Tuesdays through Saturdays. To reserve a two-hour visit, go to https://www.berkshirebotanical.org/

Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary https://www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/pleasant-valley/programs-classes-activities

July 20 – August 9 Virtual Event for NOFA Annual Summer Conference
Northeast Organic Farming Association https://nofasummerconference.org/
Climate Solutions Are Grown In Soil – 2020 Keynote speaker Tim LaSalle