article and photos by Rose Collison
Monsters of deep swamps they are not, but the common snapping turtle is the largest turtle species found anywhere in Michigan. During the final days of May and into the month of June, these algae-coated giants of the turtle world emerge from wetlands and set off on terrestrial treks fraught with danger. They are often seen lumbering on suburban lawns near wetlands or crossing highways. It’s nesting season for the snappers, and their powerful sharp jaws are a reminder to give them a wide berth when on dry land.
Although snappers are well-armored with a dinosaur-like upper shell, they are no match for automobiles. As a result, hundreds die on local roads during their hazardous road crossings. When and if the snapper finds a well-drained sunny location, often along the berm of rural road, their mission begins.
Using powerful hind legs, a female snapping turtle scrapes out a shallow, bowl-shaped nest and lays 20 to 50 ping-pong sized eggs before lumbering back to water. The egg-laying process often takes over an hour. During this time, the snapping turtle will aggressively defend herself if a human, dog, or wild predator gets too close.
Once the eggs are deposited, she covers the nest with soil and never returns to see her hatchlings. Most of the hatchlings don’t survive. Raccoons are masters of discovery and know the scent and sight of a hidden snapper turtle nest.
For these masked bandits of the night, it’s a protein rich and easy meal. A disturbed nesting site quickly attracts crows, skunks and opossums: three predators known to consume whatever they can find. Hatching takes about 80 days, depending on environmental conditions and soil temperature. The survivors scramble for the water, risking a gauntlet of other predators.