Turtle Rescue

I often wonder how turtles evolved the practice of laying eggs far inland from the lakes they inhabit, so that their newly hatched young have to struggle their way back to the water, most of them dying of the way from predators or desiccation. Last week I helped one baby snapper improve its survival odds, with an assist from grandsons Tucker and Perrin. I spotted the little guy, shell no more than an inch and a half across, on the pavement of our private road, on returning home from a bike ride.

My front tire came within an inch of running over the turtle. I went back and picked it up; it was so still that I wasn’t sure if it was alive or dead, or if it was some sort of rubberized toy. Knowing the grandsons would arrive with their mom in a few hours, I put the little one in a plastic cup with a splash of water and waited to see what would happen. When I showed the turtle to Tucker and Perrin, they were captivated. Tucker transferred it to a plastic food container Gramma fished out of the pantry and added an inch of water. Perrin put in a few stones from a flower pot for the turtle to climb on. At Tucker’s request I added a piece of a night crawler from my bait stash in the fridge – the little fella might be hungry.

Tucker took to periodically prodding the turtle, hoping to it would show signs of life. And gradually it did. It started poking its head farther out of its shell and opening and closing its eyes. Then it began moving its legs. Pretty soon it was swimming, and toward evening it had climbed onto the stones as if sunning itself. By morning the turtle was swimming vigorously. It crawled to the highest point among the stones, placed its front feet against a side of the container, and stretched its serpentine neck until it could see over the rim.

The boys, having been taught that wild creatures are not to be kept as pets, decided it was time to release their little friend to its natural environs. We put on jackets against a cold, damp wind. I carried the turtle in its container down the stairs to the lake, the boys and their mom following. I set the baby snapper close to the water’s edge, wavelets lapping to within an inch of its snout. We expected the turtle to scramble into the water and swim away. Instead it returned to the sedentary state in which I found it and did not budge.

After a few minutes of waiting we decided to leave it alone. We headed back up to the house and let nature take its course. The little guy’s odds of survival, we knew, were bleak, since that is the way for all turtle hatchlings, be they snappers or painters. But the boys now can wonder, if years from now they should see a large snapping turtle poke its head above the waves of Birch Lake: Is that the one we rescued years ago and nursed back to health? It’s just another of the joys of living on a lake. (Photo from Maine Audubon, https://maineaudubon.org/news/seven-months-in-the-life-of-a-snapping-turtle/.)