Snapping turtles live up to their name

Staff ~ The Cape Breton Post
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EDWARDSVILLE — If you ever wondered why the snapping turtle crossed the road, keep reading.

Brian Sheppard met his very first snapping turtle last week when one was spotted in front of a home in Edwardsville, crawling on the road.

“I have hunted and fished all over Cape Breton and I grew up here, so it's like 64 years, and I've set rabbit snares and I've lived down there and in all that time, I have never seen a snapping turtle,” said Sheppard.

“Surely strange, but this fella was big, it was something to pick up. Unbelievable to hold. He must have weighed up to 15 pounds. And as I was holding it, I was wondering can he reach back and get me?”

The short answer is yes. According to Terry Power, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, snapping turtles aren't overly appreciative when you lift them off the ground.

“People love to pick them up and help it off the road — this is a natural thing, they might get hit by a car —  but just be aware they can inflict a nasty bite,” said Power. “It's not a good idea to pick them up.

“If you can steer them to the edge of the road with something, that's fine. It's not a good idea to handle them. Their neck is long and even backwards, they can reach out quite a long ways. You think you have them in the back but that's not always safe either.”

While the Edwardsville turtle is somewhat of a rarity, Power said there is a well-established colony in the Salmon River watershed area.

“They nest on Cape Breton Island and they successfully produce hatchlings from those nests but we are at the northern edge of the limits of their range in Canada,” said Power. “Cape Breton would be the northern extreme of their range.”

The turtle in question could have been a female looking for a place to lay her eggs. The female snapping turtles like to lay their eggs in the gravel near roadways and often get run over trying to cross the road to get to their preferred spot.

If you move them to another location, they will come back until they get to the spot they want.

Power said it could also be the same turtle who was reported wandering around the Rudderham Road area last fall, since it’s only 1.5 km away.

He also suspects the turtle could have been dropped off in the area and that there may be no other turtles in that area.

However, if someone does spot a snapping turtle anywhere on Cape Breton Island, they should report it to their local Natural Resources office so they can keep track.

Sheppard says his big concern about the turtles is the fact that they can deliver a nasty nip if you’re not careful.

“Snapping turtles will take the fingers right off you,” said Sheppard. “If kids get around it, they'll lose their fingers for sure.”

And while turtles are known to be slow, they’re pretty quick to defend themselves when they feel threatened.

“He took a nip at me when I was in front of him,” said Sheppard. “He reached out so far and tried to get me — just like lightening and you hear this snap — so I guess that's where they get their name, the snapping turtle.”

But for now, Sheppard will be keeping a wary eye for any other animals who may be wandering through his neighbourhood.

“I've had cows run through my lawn,” said Sheppard, laughing. “I've had deer, rabbits, running all over the place — it's a real zoo here. You don't know what's going to show up next.”

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