Snappers don’t bother some folk

Published 5:25 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2019

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The Short Rows on snapping turtles that we republished a few weeks ago drew more comment than most.

One comment repeated by several readers was that I am dead wrong about the safety of handling snappers. These folks tell me it’s perfectly safe to pick up a snapper so long as you pick it up by its tail. Robert Cox even dropped by the office with an old photograph of his mother standing in the family’s barnyard holding a snapping turtle for the camera. She was holding it by its tail and its head was stretched out but away from her.

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Retired Circuit Court Clerk William E. Laine Jr. also chided me a bit for the overly cautious approach of the column, saying it is indeed safe to handle a turtle by its tail.

I yield to the knowledge of both men and anyone else who has handled snappers and managed to keep all their fingers, but I will continue to maintain that picking up full grown snapping turtles is not the brightest springtime activity.

Ironically, a few days after the column was reprinted, I was walking to my home shop in the backyard and a few feet from the entrance sat a fairly large snapping turtle. I was sure that it (she) was on high ground to lay eggs. We’ve seen snappers come up the hill from the Pagan River most every year that we’ve lived on Mill Swamp Road, which is well over four decades. I’m sure the snappers have come every year, but we just haven’t seen them on occasion.

This one was probably headed back down the hill when I saw her. A couple of days later, I found a freshly disturbed area in the front yard where she or another snapper had undoubtedly laid eggs.

Occasionally, we’ll see a baby snapper crawling across the yard toward the marsh or, more typically, in a swimming pool filter. It’s usually August because it takes 80 to 90 days for snapping turtles to hatch.

Like many reptiles, the sex of turtles is determined by the temperature of the soil during a certain period of their incubation. Lower soil temperature produces females, while higher soil temperature produces males. If last week was a preview of what this summer will be like, a bunch of boys will be crawling out of turtle shells sometime this summer.

Environmental progress

We still have much to do to clean up the environmental mess we have made of our world, but we have made progress — a lot of it.

One area of dramatic improvement is water quality. A little more than a half century ago, raw sewage was dumped daily into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, including the James and Pagan rivers.

Back then, a summer rite was vaccination to prevent typhoid fever, which is caused by exposure to water contaminated with human feces. No vaccination, no swimming in the James. And even with vaccination, swimming in the Pagan was dicey.

Today, we don’t give typhoid a thought unless, perhaps, we’re traveling to a country where it is still a significant problem.

There is still an occasional outbreak of typhoid in this country, but the construction and improvement of sewage facilities, and the improvement in public water supplies has long since made it a rarity.