The dance of the snapping turtles!

You spend enough time on your lake and over time you see things you’d never seen before and may never see again. Many years ago while fishing, daughter Sonya and I saw a deer swim all the way across Birch Lake, pursued by someone’s dog. Three years ago while snorkeling on a reef I stopped to clear my mask, then put it on and looked down into the water, to see three very hefty smallmouth bass circling around my legs. A couple of years while fishing along Birch Lake’s stretch of state-owned shoreline, I saw a disturbance in the water a couple hundred yards away. At first I thought it was an otter backstroking along and crunching on crayfish.

As whatever it was came closer, it became clear that it wasn’t an otter. After I watched for a while longer my curiosity took hold. I started the motor, maneuvered to the windward side of the disturbance, and shut the motor down, hoping the stiff breeze would move me silently into viewing position. It did; I took out my phone and readied the camera. It looked like a snapping turtle had hold of and was struggling with something – a dead duck maybe? No, snappers don’t attack adult ducks. Before long the boat drifted right up beside what turned out to be a pair of very large snappers in a mating embrace, plastron to plastron, and so face to face. As the boat floated up to them and then drifted by, I shot several pictures. The turtles languidly rolled and tumbled in the water, as if in a slow-motion waltz . It was strange to see such normally menacing creatures – savage jaws, horned shells, tails like medieval weapons – in an act of such seeming tenderness.

They paid me no heed, just continued their dance as my boat drifted on by. From the time I first saw them unitl I stopped watching must have been at least twenty minutes. The research I did later told me that in mating the male mounts the female from behind. These two were clearly facing each other; perhaps an actual reproductive act came later. Regardless, the female ultimately would carry her fertilized eggs onto shore and bury them in sand to incubate in a warming sun.  It’s not every day one gets to see a snapping turtle, let alone a pair of them in a love embrace. In the picture above, the turtle facing the camera appears to be smiling.