Locally, I have a bit of a reputation as a person who knows all about weird animals. I can identify them, have a storehouse of information on them, know their temperments and how they react to human interference. I was not surprised when I got a call last Thursday to come check out something that crawled underneath a friends car. They didn’t want to back out and squish it. They had called me before for snakes, salamanders, spiders, wierd bugs, a shrew…
All of these I would capture and relocate to a place that would be safer for the animal. The area I am in has a huge migrant population and these folks are from areas where it seems that everything is poisonous. They see a snake, lizard or weird bug, they are very likely to kill it without any hesitation. It took me years to get them to stop and at least call me first so I can get the critter, do a little education and save the beasties life. When they call, I get there quick!
This was the first time they had ever called me about a turtle.
I arrive on the scene and look into the dark under the car just as it was starting to rain. There it was. A massive brute of a turtle. I could see the outline of the shell (At least 18″ long and 9″ high) and the face. It seemed to be standing up more on its legs than most turtles. It’s shell was completely off the ground and the legs were more like hooves then the webbed claws I was used to seeing on turtles of that size. From the size of it, I first thought it must be a snapping turtle of some sort, but from the hoof-like feet and the fact that it was holding itself up off of the ground, I changed my thoughts a little…Perhaps it was some sort of tortoise. It was warm enough that it could have been a sulcata tortoise that someone had released into the wild, but it was really too dark under the car to see. I grabbed a stick and waved it in front of the face to see if it would react at all. It ignored it completely.
Ok…Not a snapper.
I was just reaching under the car when one of the many gathered to watch said “I wouldn’t have called you for a turtle, but it had such a weird tail.”
“Weird tail?” I asked, pausing for a moment.
“Yeah…it has these weird spikes…”
I yanked my hand back just as the head rocketed forward.
It was indeed a snapping turtle. I had messed with these fellows before. They stay very docile until they are sure they can get you and then WHAM! You are missing fingers. I just didn’t expect to find one in the middle of a parking lot, in the dark, under a car.
There was about 2″ of clearance between the top of the shell and the bottom of the car. I told the owner that she could back up very slowly and the turtle would be ok.
She pulled back and the monster was revealed. His four inch wide beaked mouth was gaping at me as he stood his ground. I looked at him carefully, checking the carapace for cracks or wounds. There was a leech attached to it that I removed from behind while distracting it with a stick. This was a beautiful tough old turtle. The feet had looked like hooves because most of its toes had been bitten of and so it stood funny.
It was about a half mile from the nearest body of water, and there were roads between it and safety. I was going to have to transport a very surly animal quite a bit of distance.
I had someone fetch me a box. It was fairly tall with an open top. I figured I could set it down in the box, throw it in the back of my car and drive it the short distance to the lake.
I set the box on my back seat and started to pull out. I turned around to look behind me, and that is when I noticed the giant turtle head peeking out between my seats and looking at my elbow in a non friendly fashion.
Have you ever seen someone jump out of a car in a state of panic because there was a bee inside?
Yeah. It was kind of like that except that a turtle that size could bit off my elbow.
It had overturned the box and was now set on defending its new territory. The back seat of my car.
I managed to wrestle the snapping flailing turtle from my back seat and held by the sides at arms reach. It was stretching out its neck over its shoulder trying to grab my fingers and missing by centimeters. There was no other way to do this but walk to the pond, holding the turtle so tightly my knuckles were turning white. Each time it snapped at me, its whole body jerked violently and it was slowly wearing me out. The rain picked up at the point into a downpour.
I walked the 1/2 mile to the lake in the rain with a berserk snapper flailing in my hands. I got to the steep, grassy, leaf covered bank to the lake, my flat soled Vans type sneakers squishing with water.
Flat soled Sneakers on a wet grassy leaf covered bank.
I landed on my back with a “Woomph!” sound, throwing the 20 lb turtle high into the air. I had just half a second to think “Ooh…That hurt!” before the gigantic 20 pound turtle landed on his back in the center of my stomach with a second “Woomph!”
This apparently was the turtles cue to begin break dancing as it tried to right itself. It’s rear feet flailing, its neck stretching out jaws snapping frantically for purchase…something, ANYTHING to grab on to.
I pushed the turtle one way and rolled the other. I landed in a low crouch backing away as the turtle, now having righted itself was literally charging at me, mouth agape.
I screamed and dove to the side, a frantic push with my foot sending it spinning down the bank into the lake.
He looked up at me once, and then swam off like nothing had happened.
Ungrateful little twit.