Snapping turtles, like many other freshwater turtles in New Hampshire, will soon come out of the water to lay their eggs on land, and many will find it necessary to cross a road. That is when we need to give them the right-of-way. Snapping turtles are the top predators in their water environment, but they are no match for the tires of speeding traffic. In his book The Reptile World, Clifford Pope wrote, "Every year in the United States, countless thousands of female turtles are crushed on our roads by motor vehicles."
Turtles at one time shared the earth with dinosaurs and are thought to have been around for at least 200 million years. The secret of their survival through the unbelievable tests of prehistoric existence has been their unique, robust shells. Their backbone and ribs are fused to the bony structure of their shells and have remained unchanged amid the fluctuations in climate and the shifting nature of the habitat across vast eons of time.
Every spring, snapping turtles come up from the pond to lay their eggs in my newly plowed garden. How can they know when and where to come? In his book, The Year of the Turtle, David Carroll of Warner wrote, "Turtles seem to be quick to track down and take advantage of new openings in the earth at nesting time and it may be that a sense of smell plays a role in this."
After finding a sunny spot in the soft earth, the female snapping turtle will dig a hole with her hind legs and deposit 30-40 white eggs the size of ping-pong balls. She will then push dirt over the eggs and return to the water, leaving her eggs in the care of Mother Earth, who knows full well that raccoons, skunks, snakes and large birds love to dine on turtle eggs. If all goes well in the earthen incubator, the turtles will hatch in 70 to 90 days, depending on the weather.
The young turtles that hatch will climb out of their nests to embark on the most perilous journey of their lives. The factors enabling them to decode the clues that help them find their way to the water is one of the mysteries of nature. They will surmount enormous obstacles and even cross busy highways to reach the safety of the water.
Snapping turtles are notoriously ferocious. On land they will rise up on their legs and lunge fiercely at an intruder with their hooked jaws open wide. Their aggressive behavior is expressed in folklore that says "the snapping turtle will not release its grip on a victim until the thunder rolls or the sun goes down."
Major Kevin Jordan, of the law enforcement division of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said it is illegal to take a snapping turtle during the spring nesting period between May 15 to July 15.
If you find a snapping turtle in the middle of the road and want to help it safely cross, you can use a stick to hurry it along in the same direction it is heading or merely stand guard as she makes the crossing. While doing this, you must deal cautiously not only with oncoming traffic, but also with the vile temper of the turtle that does not realize you are saving its life.