Snapping turtles leave their aquatic habitats to lay eggs on land throughout May and June, crossing paths with motorists and landowners more frequently. Incidentally, this can be a startling experience for both turtle and human.
Their curved jaws, long necks and spiked tails make snapping turtles look fierce. Likewise, their unsteadiness on land makes them act fierce. Between their appearance and attitude, it’s no surprise these interactions frequently result in a snapping turtle’s untimely death.
However, these interactions during May and June can be misleading because for much of the year snapping turtles avoid humans, playing a vital role in the nearby aquatic ecosystem. Learn more about the importance and temperament of snapping turtles before a chance sighting causes you to overreact.
Benefits to aquatic ecosystems
Snapping turtles play a vital role in pond and wetland ecosystems. They are opportunistic eaters with a diet that includes aquatic plants as well as dead or dying fish, organic debris, insects and small animals. They can benefit ponds and wetlands by consuming dead and decaying organic debris and nuisance aquatic plants. When landowners and snapping turtles can find a way to coexist, the local ecosystems they belong to benefit.
The truth about snapping turtle temperament
Many people that have encountered snapping turtles paint an aggressive picture, which is not completely accurate. On land, where they’re out of their comfort zone and move slowly, snapping turtles are generally more aggressive. However, in the water, they are typically shy and prone to swim away from humans, diving below the water surface looking for cover in the bottom sediments and weeds. They act aggressive on land because they perceive humans as a threat and have no way to retreat quickly.
If you encounter a snapping turtle in the road and want to move it out of the way, the safest way to handle it and avoid being bitten is to pick it up by its hind legs to move it. Anytime, you help a turtle cross the road, snapping turtle or otherwise be sure to place it on the side of the road it was headed towards in the direction it was facing when you found it. Additionally, you should never relocate turtles.
Managing snapping turtles
Although snapping turtles are vital in pond and wetland ecosystems, some landowners prefer to manage their populations. However, make sure to refer to the harvesting regulations in your state before you set traps.
Due to their abundance in both Ohio and Pennsylvania, harvest regulations are fairly liberal. In Pennsylvania, a fishing license is required to harvest snapping turtles. Up to 15 can be legally harvested daily between July 1 through Oct. 31. Ohio also requires a fishing license to participate in turtle season, which stretches from July 1 to April 30. There is no daily limit in Ohio, but snapping turtles must have a straight-line carapace length of 13 inches or greater to be taken.
The types of traps that can be used to harvest snapping turtles are also regulated. Many regulations require traps with hooks that are at least 3.5 inches long with at least 1 inch between the tip and shank to prevent other types of protected or endangered turtles from being mistakenly caught. Additionally, traps must always be marked with the name and address of the owner or user and checked once every 24 hours.
Contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission or governing agency in your state for more specifics on trapping and harvesting regulations.
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