Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cold snap bad for snapping turtle?

The alligator snapping turtles in the Tennessee Aquarium's Delta Swamp exhibit are very popular animals. Especially the male, who is absolutely huge. His giant head and shell make him look positively prehistoric.
The recent cold snap had at least one nature lover questioning the welfare of snapping turtles that live in the area. It's a good question, and fortunately, Karla got a great answer from Tennessee Aquarium senior herpetologist Bill Hughes.
"I have been keeping an eye on a baby alligator snapping turtle all summer that is living in a mud puddle down by the creek at my house. My concerns are probably stupid but I was wondering what will happen to the baby when the puddle dries up or cold weather comes. I know he must be eating bugs because he is about 20 feet from the creek itself but what will he eat when it dries up. Should I help him to the creek or leave him alone. I don’t want anyone to run over him but soon hunters will be coming down this small muddy road and I am afraid they will. I have a log in front of the puddle now but they will move it I know. What would you do in a case like this? The neighborhood kids go with me and also want to know what will happen if we don’t intervene but I want to do only what is allowed or what is best for the turtle. Thank you for any advice you can give in this matter." - Karla, Chatsworth, Ga.
Here's Bill's response: "Karla -The turtle is probably a common snapping turtle as alligator snappers don’t range as far north as Chatsworth. Common snappers occur as far north as Canada and are able to take extreme temperatures. These turtles are commonly found in habitats that can best be described as marginal (that is, ones that seem as though they would only be suitable temporarily – like a mud puddle). I suspect that if the puddle dries out or if it becomes very cold (like today!), the turtle will either move somewhere else or bury down into the bottom and wait for more favorable conditions.
He/she is probably not real active this time of year anyway, so it is probably not eating and may not eat again until it warms up.
These turtles are not protected in Georgia, so if you wanted to move it to a nearby location that might be more sheltered from human traffic, then that would probably be ok."
Next time you're at the Tennessee Aquarium, look for a staff member or volunteer whenever you have a question about the creatures or habitats. If you have an animal question after you get home, feel free to "Ask an Expert" online at:

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