By Ryan Reed
The month of July begins Pennsylvania’s annual snapping turtle season, which usually lasts until the end of October. Snapping turtles (like all other PA reptiles) are under the authority of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC). If you wish to harvest a snapping turtle (aka, “snapper”), you must have a valid PA fishing license. Something else you should possess when attempting to harvest one is common sense, because the snapper moniker is well-earned.
Around the end of May, my neighbor approached and asked if I could remove a snapping turtle from his landscape. Being the local “nature guy” does have its perils. I walked over to the bush under which the very large (about 20 lbs.) snapper rested. Its shell was covered in a thick layer of light-brown mud, but its eyes were clear and focused directly on me. I used a rake to pull it out from under the bush, and then reached down and grabbed it by the front and rear edges of the shell. As I quickly placed it into a large plastic tote, the angry snapper’s head shot out with the speed of a rattler’s strike, missing my left pinky by less than an inch. It should be noted a snapper’s bite force is reported to potentially exceed 1000 PSI (pounds per square inch), rivaling the Bengal tiger.
After a quick ride in the back of my pickup, I released the snapper back where it had probably been only a day or so earlier. I wondered if it would just end up in the neighbor’s yard again, but it did not. I also wondered whether it was a female looking for a good place to lay eggs, or perhaps a male in search of a mate, both reasonable explanations for finding one so far from the slow-moving water they prefer. I also pondered (had it been in-season) what it would be like to harvest it for consumption. Recipes using snapping turtle meat are easy to find on the web, especially soups and stews. Snapper meat is commonly described as tasting like pork.
While researching this topic, I came across more than one article that mentioned people losing fingers to the bites of snapping turtles. I sure am glad that my last encounter with a snapper had a happier ending!
Forest Fridays is a feature of the DCNR Bureau of Forestry.