Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I've got the turtle blues

I have a little problem – actually, make that a big one – that I need help solving.

It all began exactly a year ago when I was walking down Podunk Road in Allenstown. About nine-tenths of Podunk Road is dirt, surrounded by thick woods.

While I was walking, I spotted a big crow standing in the middle of the road up ahead and pecking at something. When the crow caught sight of my dog and me, it took off. I thought nothing of it until I got closer to the spot where the crow had been and saw what it had been pecking at. It was a tiny snapping-turtle hatchling, not much bigger than a quarter.

I studied the stiff, unmoving turtle, which had a pretty mangled-looking hind leg, and assumed it was dead. I picked it up and was going to put it in the bushes on the side of the road, but for some reason, I popped it into my jacket pocket instead.

When I got home, I removed the turtle from my pocket and thought I saw it move just slightly. Quickly, I put some water, small stones and flat rock into a plastic container and then set the turtle down on the rock. I decided to call the poor little critter “Snippy.”

“Why do you have a dead turtle in a bowl of water?” My husband, peering into the container, asked.

“I thought I saw him move,” I said.

“Move? Rigor mortis already has set in!”

Despite my husband’s remarks, I decided to leave Snippy in the container overnight. If he still was lying in the same spot in the morning, I would give him a decent burial.

The next morning, when I approached Snippy’s container, his little head popped up and he stared at me. I didn’t know whether to be ecstatic or scared. I mean, I’d never played mother to a snapping turtle before, never mind an injured one, so I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do. I rushed to the Internet to look up information.

After I waded through all of the Web sites that listed recipes for snapping-turtle soup, a real delicacy (according to the info) in many areas, I found the information I was looking for. It said to offer such tempting treats as cooked chicken, shrimp, mealworms, beef and tiny bits of fruit and vegetables on the tip of a toothpick to the turtle.

Everything I offered Snippy, he voraciously attacked and gulped down…except the fruit and vegetables. He turned his little nose up at every piece I tried. The turtle obviously was a carnivore…and my husband’s clone.

Through the winter, Snippy thrived. His injured leg healed, but he dragged it behind him when he walked and seemed to have trouble swimming. He also grew into a very chubby turtle. I bought him a five-gallon aquarium, which he promptly outgrew. I bought him a 10-gallon aquarium, which he also outgrew. I looked up more information on the Internet. “Snappers can grow to weigh 65 lbs.” one site said. “Turtle owners should build fenced-in ponds in their back yards to provide proper housing.”

Somehow, I couldn’t picture myself, spade in hand, digging a pond in my back yard.

I hate to say it, but the more I babied Snippy, the less he acted like the vicious finger-biting turtle he was meant to be. He liked to be held. He liked to have his shell rubbed. He also liked to sit in his aquarium and watch everything that was going on around him. The minute I’d reach for his bag of shrimp, he’d instantly spot it and would do a little head-bobbing turtle dance in anticipation of mealtime.

The truth was, I was raising a wimp.

A few weeks ago, I finally decided to consult a reptile expert and ask what I should do with Snippy. “Can I let him loose in a pond, even though he’s totally domesticated now?” I asked her. “My plan all along has been to nurse him back to health, get him strong and then set him free, but I’m not sure if he can make it on his own or not.”

“Oh, he’ll adapt just fine,” she assured me. “Snappers are very hardy creatures. And now’s the time to set him free before winter sets in.”

So that next Monday, I, with a heavy heart, put Snippy into a cardboard box and hiked up to Hayes Marsh, which is about three-quarters of a mile off Podunk Road, where I’d originally found him. I figured that his family had to be in that marsh, mainly because it was the only body of water in the area.

When the marsh finally came into view, I made myself feel less depressed by envisioning Snippy happily swimming off into the sunset, free at last.

But alas, my vision turned out to be a far cry from reality. I set Snippy down on the shore and he immediately backed away from the water, terrified. I picked him up and put him into the water. Panicking, he began to thrash, his chubby legs flailing wildly. He continued to thrash, remaining in the same spot and getting nowhere, until I couldn’t bear it any longer. I yanked him out of the water and set him back on the shore. At that point, a dragonfly flew over his head and he actually cringed, trying to tuck himself into his shell (which snapping turtles, unlike other turtles, can’t do). I finally had to admit that Snippy probably wasn’t such a hot candidate for making it on his own in the wild.

I brought him back home.

And here he still remains, perfectly content in his too-small aquarium, eating like a horse…and growing bigger by the hour.

The bottom line is that Snippy needs a place where he can have lots of room, be safe and well cared for, and be accepted for the big wimp that he is. If anyone can help or offer any suggestions, please e-mail me at sillysally@att.net.

That is, unless you’re thinking about whipping up a batch of turtle soup.