CRITTERS AT BRAZOS BEND STATE PARK (AND ELSEWHERE)--TURTLES
This page was born 08/10/2005.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 03/28/2017
Images and contents on this page copyright 2002--2017 Richard M. Dashnau 

Here are my other Brazos Bend and/or critter pages:
 ----------------------------------------------------------------                  OR,  FOR OTHER ANIMALS:

Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Introduction                Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Snakes-nonvenomous 1-------------------------------------------    Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Snakes-nonvenomous 2-------------------------------------------------Insects, non-toxic
Snakes-nonvenomous 3------------------------------------------------Spiders
Snakes-venomous------------------------------------------------------Mammals
Birds-Waders--Birds-Raptors
--Birds-Anhingas---------------   Lizards!--Turtles!
Birds-Grebes
--Birds-Other Birds
--Birds-Herons
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That's me on the Elm Lake Trail at BBSP. As I've gotten more pictures of turtles at the park (and elsewhere), I've gathered enough to start putting them on a separate page. Here they are!
In October of 2006, I attended a training seminar sponsored by the NAI (National Association for Interpretation) to become a Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG). As our final project, we had to give a 10-minute presentation.
I chose Snapping Turtles as my subject. I was given a copy of the performance I gave on 10/27/2006, and I've edited the video.  You can see it by following this link (wmv format) or this link (flv).

04/23/2007---This drama took about 45 minutes to unfold.
I discovered this turtle (probably one of the "cooters", possibly a Florida cooter Chrysemys f. floridana) excavating a nest on the Spillway trail.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to film.  After a few minutes of watching, I decided to move a bit closer to find a better camera position. As I did, I happened to look down at the water's edge, and straight into the eyes of a stalking alligator!  The images and video clips below show the turtle at work, and a few panning shots to establish the relationship between the alligator and the turtle. Note the puddle at the turtle's hindquarters. The turtle urinates on the ground to soften it for digging. It is during trips back and forth to the water for "refills" that the turtle is vulnerable.

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Video clips--- part1 turtle digging wmv 4.3mb  part2 pan from gator wmv 1.7mb  part3 pan after camera moved wmv 2.6mb

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It was about 20 feet away, and below me. The raised head, the body out of the water, and its alert appearance told me that it was probably stalking the turtle--as unlikely as that sounds.  I'd heard that alligators would lie in wait for the nesting turtles and pick them off as they'd return to the water from a park visitor a couple years ago.  It appeared that I'd blundered into such a situation.  I decided to back off and see what happened.  I moved my camera back, to where I thought I'd be out of the alligator's perceived threat range. After a few minutes, the alligator backed into the water, but stayed in position. The turtle continued working.
After a few minutes more, the alligator climbed ashore, and began to climb the bank. Although it moved slowly, it did NOT move silently. It made a large amount of racket, crackling branches and brush. I've mentioned before that I thought alligators move quietly on land. They do, sometimes. Not this time. When it was within the growth, the alligator stopped to rest for a few minutes.  The turtle kept working.  The alligator moved a bit more, climbing, and stopped to rest for a few more minutes.  The turtle kept working.  The alligator moved again, and finally pushed through the weeds at the edge of the trail. There was a LOT of noise.  Not quite the stealthy movement of a stalking hunter.  However, turtles don't have ears.  So, the turtle kept working.  The alligator moved forward, rested, and then grabbed for the turtle, which--finally aware of the alligator--moved out of the alligator's jaws! But only for a few steps. Whereupon both reptiles stopped and eyed each other at touching distance. What was going on here? Were they both resting? Were they, in their reptilian way, trying to determine the next course of action? Imagine the nightmare of watching something that wanted to eat you gathering the energy to do so while YOU were trying to gather the energy to escape-- if that is what was happening.  The images and video clips below show this next exchange. Most of the images here are single frames from the video.  I couldn't hope to keep the action in frame for the video while shooting photos at the same time.

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Video clips--- part4 alligator starts up hill wmv 4.5mb  part5 breaks through the weeds wmv 5.4mb  part6 first grab wmv 4.2mb
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------part6 SLOW MOTION wmv 2.6mb
The alligator tried again, and missed while the turtle slipped out of its jaws. And actually tried for a total of 5 times. Each time, the turtle moved just enough to avoid being grabbed.  During one rest period, a couple humans on bicycles passed by, but neither reptile seemed to notice them. While reviewing the video, I noticed an odd sideways tilting of the turtle's shell towards the alligator's jaws. It looks like the turtle was pushing up with the legs on the opposite side. It seemed to prevent the alligator from getting its bottom jaw under the turtle's shell so it could pick up the turtle. The alligator rested from 2 to 5 minutes between each attempt--while the turtle stayed right there near it. Perhaps it's possible that this is a defensive strategy against the alligator's response to movement.   The images and video clips below show this next exchange.

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Video clips--- part7 another grab wmv 3.0mb  part8 and another grab wmv 2.7mb  part9 and yet another grab wmv 2.3mb
----------------------------------------------------------------------------  -------part9 SLOW MOTION wmv 3.8mb 

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After one more try, the alligator---GAVE UP!  One of the park Kabotas was on the end of the trail, by the water station, at least 100 yards away. I don't think it drove the alligator off. The alligator walked back down to the water's edge, while the turtle watched it leave. When the Kabota approached, the turtle quickly crossed to the other side of the trail (away from the alligator and across the path of the approaching large vehicle) and entered the water there.  If this is because the alligator entered the closest water to the turtle, then perhaps turtles are more aware than we realize.  The alligator stayed near the area, and even bellowed some time later.  The images and video clips below show this next exchange.
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Video clips--- part10 last grab wmv 7.2mb  part11 alligator walks off wmv 8.0mb   

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How did the alligator know the turtle was up there? It couldn't see it, even though it could have seen it leave the water. If so, then how did it go through all the plants and come out directly behind the turtle? I believe that the cloudy skies, which prevented the sun from showing much at all, is what saved the turtle. Although it wasn't cold, the alligator wasn't warmed up enough for vigorous movement. This is the second time I've seen an alligator's unsuccessful attempt at attacking a turtle.  You can see another attempt on my page here, just scroll down to the entry for 4/30/2006.
I learned a few things from this. First, a hungry alligator will move from distance from the water if it perceives a possible meal. Second, once out of the water, an alligator is not nearly as efficient a hunter as it is in the water. I suspect if the alligator was warmer, the turtle might not have made out so well. It also seems strange the the turtle moved around the alligator's head, instead of just moving straight away from it. Wouldn't YOU? This last image shows the unfinished turtle's nest. You can see how how the ground was moistened, and also how the deep excavation had progressed. She scooped up loads of mud with her paddle-like back feet, and smeared them to the side. I wouldn't want to dig in this medium with tools, but the turtles can do it.  I tentatively identified the turtle as a "Cooter" because my field guide to reptiles says that these turtles have a marking that resembles a small "c" on the top edge of the second scute of the carapace (A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, by Roger Conant 2nd Ed. page 61). My identification is tentative at best.
One other point. Most of us think of a turtle using its shell as a sort of "box". That is-if something threatens it-the turtle withdraws into its shell. Box Turtles have hinges on their lower shell (plastron) that allows their shells to close tightly. Many of us have seen turtles of all sizes hide by withdrawing into their shell (I have), with the exception of Snapping Turtles.  Snapping Turtles use their shell in a more dynamic manner, as shown on the same page linked above under the entry for May 8, 2005. Snapping turtles use a combination of shell dipping, circling, and snapping for their defense on land.
If this Cooter had merely withdrawn into its shell, it would probably have been crunched-up alligator food by now. However, this turtle didn't withdraw at all! Instead, it remained fully-extended, and responded to direct attack with a mobile defensive strategy. How does it work? Is it merely the mechanics of the shape of the shell working with the force of the jaws closing to "squirt" the turtle out? Or is it some combination of the smoothness of the shell foiling the teeth's ability to snag and/or penetrate along with the turtle actively responding to force (jaw compression) by moving out of its way as its brought to bear? That is, its reflexes and instincts respond this way--the turtle isn't thinking about it. In any case, do NOT try this at home--or anywhere else. Very impressive!

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03/11 thru 03/27/2007---It's spring! With the spring comes Alligator Mating Season, and the return of all the reptiles and arthropods I like to see. With water levels still high throughout the park, I'm hoping for lots of alligator nesting this year.   I thought I'd share a few images of what's been going on at the park. This is, of course, Brazos Bend State Park.
The images below show a pond turtle that has apparently had a narrow escape. There is a line of deep holes across the top of its shell, a number of scratches, and the rear of its shell is cracked. I first saw it on March 11. The last time (so far) I've seen it is March 27. In all cases, I've only seen it basking. In the last couple days I saw it, it was basking on the same log. I hope the turtle survives. I wonder how it escaped the alligator in the first place. Many turtles don't escape, and I have examples of this on my pages here.

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               -LUCKY ON MARCH 11, 2007 -                                          --MARCH 11,  CLOSER-----                                   -----MARCH 11, REAR OF SHELL-                             --LUCKY ON MARCH 26, 2007-        

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                    -LUCKY ON MARCH 27, 2007-                                    LUCKY ON MARCH 27, 2007

July 09, 2006--I was about 3 miles away from BBSP when I passed a large Common Snapping Turtle walking towards the road. I turned around, picked it up, and put it into my car. Then, when I got to the park, I rigged a makeshift bag from a towel, and carried the turtle about a half-mile into the park, where I released it. I treated the turtle gently at all times, and the towel worked well to keep it subdued and unable to bite.
I shot some video of this little adventure. The images below are frames from the video, and there are two clips below. The first clip shows me walking towards the camera with the turtle(I trimmed it for length). One really cool thing about the clip--besides the fact that I'm walking with one of my favorite creatures safely in hand--is that I am WALKING. I'm walking on my new titanium-ceramic hip that's just over a year old. THAT is really cool!

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                         HERE I COME                                                       WALKING UP THE TRAIL                                         TO THE WATER'S EDGE                                              I WANT MY TOWEL BACK                    
                                                 Rick walks with the turtle clip 3000 kb wmv                                                               Rick releases the Snapping Turtle  clip 21,000 kb wmv

  
             BY THE EDGE OF THE SHELL                                             MOVING A LITTLE CLOSER

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                           LOOK!  WATER!                                                                 IS IT SAFE?                                                      THERE IT GOES!                                                        SUBMERGED
The second clip shows the turtle being released. Note that I when I held it by the rear edges of its shell, I kept its back feet off the ground. This prevented it from being able to turn quickly. Then, when it tried to turn with the front legs, I let the thrust move it forward instead of around. That gave it a kind of "wheel-barrow" motion as it tried to to turn alternately with each leg. When I finally got it to the water's edge, the turtle waited about 15 minutes before it extended its head finally moved into the water. Again, I've edited the clip for length. It's only about 2 minutes long.  You can see other clips and photos of other Snapping Turtles I've encountered on this page.
While I was watching the turtle, I was also watching for alligators. I chose the spot I did because the water had recently risen there, and the current (which flows to my left) would bring the turtle to deeper water and better cover from alligators. A few weeks before I'd seen a very interesting alligator reaction very near where I was. A turtle on the bank is in high risk position for notice by an alligator, and I watched to be sure none were approaching while the turtle was in that vulnerable spot (squatting at the water's edge also put ME in a vulnerable spot.  Do NOT do this!). That was why I didn't toss the turtle into the water, or do anything else to disturb the surface or make too much noise. At any rate, the turtle was in a much better position than the one I found it in--on the edge of a highway.
Note that I've moved a turtle only a few miles. I did it only because I didn't want to leave it on the road. Releasing a turtle that's been in captivity for a long time, or a non-native turtle can pose some hazards. In both cases, those turtles can harbor parasites or disease organisms in large quantities. Releasing  the turtle in those cases can also release organisms dangerous to the native turtles.
 Oh...in the second clip I'm bending and squatting with that new prosthetic hip, too. That is just unbelievably GREAT!

4/30/2006--For about a week, a very large softshell turtle had been swimming in Elm Lake near piers 4 and 5. I encountered it myself. Later, I saw it on one of the islands across from the piers which had recently had all the trees cut down. Directly behind the turtle was a small alligator, about 3 or 4 feet long. It appeared that the softshell turtle was digging a nest. It also appeared that the alligator was aware of this. Here are two short clips condensed from video footage I shot while I watched what happened.  What happens in the first clip SOFTSHELL1 WMV 5.7 MB ) could be perhaps the most laid-back alligator "pounce" I've ever seen---or it could be a more subtle attempt to remove the "lid" from a nice pile of fresh turtle eggs.
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                         THIS CAN'T BE GOOD                                             COME WITH ME, I'M FEARSOME!                                 COME WITH ME, ER, PLEASE?                                        AT REST                                                             REAR SHELL TIPS UP
As the first clip shows, however, the turtle is not without some defence, though I couldn't tell if the move was deliberate or not. Here's a slow-motion view of the turtle's move. It appears that no contact is actually made. SOFTSHELL SLOW WMV 1.0 MB )

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                         "BAM!" OR "SWISH!"                                                THE FOOT GOES BACK                                               FINALLY, GATOR REACTS                                        DANG! TURTLE IS *QUICK*!
The second clip SOFTSHELL2 WMV 4.7 MB ) shows another attempt by the alligator, with different--though not more desireable--results. I don't know what made the alligator retreat after this, though I have my suspicions. Female turtles are known to soften the ground they are excavating for a nest by urinating on it. If an alligator's nose happened to be nearby when this softening occurred, it might be...less than pleasant.

August 07, 2005--  This started about a month ago. One of the BBSP volunteers (that would be John), reported a Softshell Turtle (these are probably Eastern Spiny Softshells) laying eggs near one of the trail. I've already mentioned how the turtles (most frequently Redeared Sliders) can be observed laying eggs through the spring (see this page for more details).  Softshell eggs are quite uncommon. I've seen adult Softshell turtles from time to time at the park, but they're very shy. I rarely see one in camera range. It was decided to retrieve the eggs and hatch them. I believe this was either in late May or Early June.
Finally, the eggs were ready to hatch! The decision to hatch them was made after one actually poked its nose through its eggshell around August 3rd. They were given a few more days to hatch on their own, and when they didn't, the eggs were opened. I just happened to walk in to the VC/NC when this was being done, and watched a few eggs opened.
Then, I got one of the last ones and hatched it myself! Not one to waste a photo opportunity (well, I can usually take advantage of one), I would make a few cuts, put down my scissors, pick up my camera, and take a picture: then pick up the scissors, and continue. Sometimes pictures taken at the spur of the moment come out, sometimes they don't. I believe I got lucky this time. The RICKUBISCAM shows one of my pictures.
So, the following series shows the entry of a brand-new Softshell Turtle into the world.

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                             THE EGG                                                                FIRST FEW SNIPS                                         DANG! IT'S BIG OUT THERE!                                      GET ME OUT OF THIS BAG                                                      I'M FREE!
The egg is small and almost round (see THE EGG, above). I carefully and gently broke through the shell with the point of my scissors, and opened a small spot. A tiny face peered out of the hole (see FIRST FEW, and DANG, above). Working quickly and carefully, I pulled the rest of the shell away from the turtle. It remained inside another membrane, which was crystal-clear. Still, you can see how he's tightly bundled in it, with those wide eyes staring out (see GET ME OUT, above).
I wasn't quite sure how to proceed, since I couldn't tell where the membrane was. As I watched, though, the turtle broke free on its own, stretching its neck and legs. Then, it took its first breath of air (see I'M FREE, above). This turtle had a somewhat larger yolk sac then the others. A look at its back shows  the creases in its shell (pointed out be Sharon) that allowed it to fold into the ball-shaped egg (see CREASED FROM PACKAGING, below). Right from the start, these youngsters moved with vigour and wide-eyed attention. A few minutes after placing "my" hatchling in with the others, I picked one at random and took picture showing its yolk sac (see YOLK SAC, below).  Notice how it's holding on and pushing with its legs--wide-eyed and ready to get to the job of survival! Finally, I took a few pictures trying to get a group of them--which was difficult because they were moving around (see CLUSTER OF BABIES, below). While doing this, I took a few video clips, and here are two short ones, which I show a frame of each from. (see SHORT VIDEO 01, and O2, below). We hatched out 16 babies. I heard today that one of them (possibly mine, but I hope not) didn't make it.  While that may seem sad, consider that if these eggs had been left where they had been deposited there is a very good possibility that all of them would not have survived. The eggs might have died outright from the dryness, or be being plundered by raccoons or some other animal. The hatchlings (with those soft shells) would be easy prey for any number of native carnivores in the park.

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                   CREASED FROM PACKAGING                                                 THE YOLK SAC                                                     CLUSTER OF BABIES          SHORT VIDEO CLIP O1 287kb  SHORT VIDEO CLIP O2 250kb
As if this wasn't enough baby turtles--the same day a very nice young girl came in to the visitor center with something cupped in her hand. She had rescued it walking on one of our trails. When she opened her hand, we were all surprised. It was a baby Musk Turtle, or Stinkpot! What was amazing was the size of this fully-formed baby turtle. It was TINY! The picture below shows the little one resting on my fingers (see LITTLE STINKPOT, below).

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                                                                                           LITTLE STINKPOT

May 08, 2005 As I was driving towards the Visitor Center/Nature Center at the park, Park Naturalist Sharon Hanzik, who was driving ahead of me, pulled over and motioned for me to do the same. When I walked up, she told me that a Snapping Turtle had just crossed the road. She then left, and I was able to take some more pictures of one of my favorite reptiles.
As I approached the turtle, it reared up in the typical defense posture. Unlike the other Snapper that I had taken pictures of, this one was on its own ground, and felt as if it could defend itself.
As I watched, I saw that the Snapping Turtle's defensive strategy is actually quite a bit more complex than just snapping at whatever moves in front of it. First, as I approached it, it pushed up with its rear legs, which elevated the back of the shell--which is armed with sharpened scutes along the rear edge--and also lowered the front of its shell, and drew its head back into the shell. Along with this, it would slowly turn so its front was always towards me.
Now, I only did the following for educational purposes. I don't encourage antagonizing or bothering any wildlife. I also didn't have any other choice but to lift the turtle as I did. I did it only briefly each time. Ever since I was a young, I've handled Snapping Turtles this way, and would not have if I thought it would injure the turtle. According to the website Chelydra.org, this is not the preferred manner of handling a large Snapper. I want to make this clear to everyone.

Grabbing a large stick, I slowly placed it near one side of the turtle. It lifted its shell as I described, leaning towards the stick, as the images below (frames from a video clip)show. When I moved the stick around to the other side, the turtle leaned towards it on that side.
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                    STICK ON THE RIGHT                                              TREMENDOUS HIND LIFT                                              STICK TO THE LEFT                                             LEAN TO THE LEFT
It appears to me that the turtle, although moving slowly, is using its shell as an effective shield towards percieved attack. Since its shell doesn't cover much (images are below), the Snapping Turtle uses its shell much like a gladiator would use his shield. That is, moving it to where it was necessary.  That's not all, though. This interesting posture affords a bit more strategy as well, as this next series of 8 frames shows. As I moved the stick a little closer to the shell, as an inquisitive or hungry animal might do, the slow-moving defensive lump suddenly launched an attack! I used successive frames for the last 7 images in the sequence, and my digital camera shoots clips at 24 frames per second. That head is quick!  Sometimes, the turtle will push with some or all of its feet, launching the shell forward, and extending the reach and power of its strike.
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               CAN I GET FOOD UNDER HERE?                                                 SNIFF SNIFF                                                             YOU'D                                                                             BETTER
 By pushing up with its hind legs and pulling in the front, the Snapper makes it much more difficult to lift the front of the shell. The pulled-in front legs are also cocked and ready to push the shell in either direction if necessary. The tilted shell also hides most of the head, and makes it difficult to see where the head is, and where the defensive attack will come from.

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                                      LEAVE                                                                       ME                                                                            ALONE!                                                                           GET IT?                    
With the added to the rotating behavior I've already mentioned, a possible predator would always be confronted by the downward-tilted front of the shell as the predator circled the turtle. If it (the predator) became more frustrated, it might try to move in and lift the front of the shell, with disastrous results.  It seems like a quite efficient defence. The turtle forces its antagonist to concentrate on the obstacle of moving around the shell, meanwhile causing the focus to be on the front of its shell--which is where it best counterattacks with surprising speed. Although not shown here, that neck and broad head can extend for a long distance over the turtle's back, and if the turtle is somehow seized from behind, it can just about reach anywhere on its shell.  The sudden snap to the rear, as well as clawing from the strong-webbed rear legs (today's RICKUBISCAM), can make a predator release its hold--which would allow the turtle to turn and defend again.  Here are two short video clips
of the defensive behavior. The first is a single "lean" with snap (554kb). The second is a few "leans" with the high tilt, and a snap (828kb).

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                                               FROM THE TOP                                                                             FROM THE SIDE                                                                      THE REVEALING BOTTOM
To show the turtle's shell clearly, I lifted the turtle by its tail (sorry, folks) and took the pictures above. The top of the shell (carapace) shows the broad, smooth surface with saw teeth on the rear edge.  The side view shows the massive clawed, webbed feet, and the general "prehistoric-looking" aspect of the turtle. I'm holding the turle out at arm's length. The bottom shows the very small bottom shell (plastron). This affords very little protection.
I finally brought the turtle into the trees (in the direction it had been crawling) and released it.  It may not be noticeable at first glance, but I saw that there was a healed crack on the edge of the turtle's shell, possibly from an old encounter with a car. See the image below. (CRACKED SHELL)  I also took a picture of the turtle with my foot to show some scale. Pretty good sized turtle! Also, I had to move because the turtle started turning towards my foot....

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                                                                        CRACKED SHELL                                                                                               CLOSER VIEW

 

February 21, 2005  The image below (ANCIENT FACE) shows a close-up of a very old friend of mine. This is the face of a Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra Serpentina). I was on my way to BBSP when I happened to see this turtle on the side of the road as I hurtled by at 50-plus miles an hour. I slowed down, turned around to pick it up.
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                                                                                                               ANCIENT FACE
I tried to do the same thing once last year, but the Snapper was halfway across the highway. I'd turned around, and was speeding back towards the turtle when I saw a truck coming the other way swerve over and hit it--blasting it to smithereens. What kind of a pinhead toad would do such a thing?
This time, I was successful, and I picked the turtle up and put it in the back of my car. (see PUNGENT HITCHHIKER, below)
We continued on to the park, where I decided on a spot near an alligator-free zone to release it. There was a bit of suspense when I opened the back door and the turtle was gone. I found it (it had crawled forward onto the back seat), and carried the turtle out and laid it gently onto the ground, and waited until it decided it was safe to move. I figured it was probably quite disoriented.

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                         PUNGENT HITCHHIKER                                                    HITCHHIKER CLOSER                                                          FROM THE TOP                                                       STARTING TO WALK
The Common Snapping Turtle is pretty easy to identify. (see FROM THE TOP and STARTING TO WALK, above)  The upper shell is smooth on top, with serrations (saw teeth) on the back of the shell. It has a huge tail (for a turtle)--almost as long as the shell. This turtle was about 12 inches long, but they get to about 20 inches long (I swear I've seen them bigger when I was a child). The only turtle similar to this species is the Alligator Snapper--but they have much more prominant keels on the top of the shell, and also an extra row of shell scutes on the middle side of the upper shell. That is there are about 4 or 5 scutes in 2 short rows between the ring of small ones on the edge; and the big ones across the top.  There are other differences as well, which I won't go into here.   Both species have evolved large heads with long necks. The plastron (the lower shell) of the Snapping turtle is quite small and offers little protection. The Snapper has evolved their aggressive defence to make up for this. A Snapper cornered on land (unless it's been whisked from a road and carried overland at many times the speed it's used to) will often face it's antagonist. Then, it will raise its hindquarters slightly and lower the front of its body. The Snapper will sometimes open its mouth and keep its head withdrawn. If the antagonist tries to move around the turtle, it will also turn, keeping its head facing the attacker. If the attacker approaches, then the Snapping Turtle "fires" its head out, with the jaws closing sometimes with and audible "snap". The turtle will occasional lunge its entire body forward during this defensive attack. And, the turtle is not bluffing. If its jaws catch something, it will grab on and try to bite through.

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                                    IS IT SAFE?                                                                    HOOKED BEAK                                                   WHERE'S MR. DEMILLE?                                                 RICK AND MINN
Time passed, and the Snapper extended its head and started to move (see IS IT SAFE?, above). Note how the eyes are close to the nose, so that a very small amount of the head is exposed at the surface of the water.  The hooked, sharp beak is excellent for catching prey, and tearing apart carrion. (see HOOKED BEAK, above). The eyes are camoulflaged to blend in with the rest of the face (see MR. DEMILLE, above).  When I was growing up-among the mountains in New York-I spent many summer days following and watching Snapping Turtles. I'd caught a few, also, and let them go later.
On summer days, there was a period during the early evening when breezes would still; and the surface of a lake or a pond would be like a huge pane of glass. This is when the large Snappers would come to the surface, and I would watch for them.
Out in the middle of the lake, a shallow hump (the shell) would break water; or sometimes a small, irregular knob (the eyes and nose) could be seen. In either case, soon the top of the head and the shell would break the surface, and sometimes-as the turtle took in more air and became more bouyant-the tip of the tail would show some distance from the shell. To my youthful eyes, I saw prehistoric creatures cruising around out there. Once, during one of those few lazy summer days, I was drifting around the lake in a flatbottom rowboat.  I was just lying there, enjoying the sun, when I felt a slight bump. I slowly and quietly moved to the side of the boat, and saw that my oars were slowly drifting back and forth. It was an oar that made the slight bump when it would come near the boat. What made this interesting was the foot long or so Snapping Turtle that seemed to be following the oar (it was about the same size as the wide part of the oar) as the oar drifted back and forth. When the oar drifted away from it, the turtle slowly paddled towards it with its head and neck extended. When the oar drifted towards the turtle, the turtle would paddle backwards while withdrawing its head, but still facing the oar.  I watched this for a few minutes until I shifted from my awkward position and scared the turtle away.
I came to love many aspects of nature as I was growing up. Probably one of my most important influences (and probably a big reason I came to enjoy Snapping Turtles so much) was a book that I'd read back in Elementary School (I read a LOT while growing up).  The name of the book is Minn of the Mississippi, by Holling Clancy Holling (see RICK AND MINN, above), and yes, I own a copy of it. That's a webcam shot I took yesterday. The book is the life story of a Snapping Turtle, illustrated with terrific detailed paintings and sketches. The margins of the pages are filled with all kinds of natural history facts.
I hope I can touch just one person with these pages as much as that book touched me so many years ago.

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                      TURTLE BEGINS WALKING                                                 TURTLE WALKING BY                                               SWIMMING TO FREEDOM!
  VIDEO CLIP 01 434KB                    VIDEO CLIP 02 476KB              VIDEO CLIP 03  295KB
This turtle began walking, and I shot some pictures and some video clips (see TURTLE BEGINS, and WALKING BY above, or VIDEO CLIP 01 434KB  and VIDEO CLIP 02 476KB .) I decided it was time to release it, so I brought it to the water's edge. This time, there was no waiting. The turtle saw the water, and went right for it. (see SWIMMING TO FREEDOM, above, or VIDEO CLIP 03  295KB ) Compare the speed and grace in the water with the plodding movement on land. What a difference!
I've been at BBSP at least once a week for over 3 years and have never seen a Snapping Turtle in the water, or anywhere else there. I've seen Pond Turtles, Sliders, Musk Turtles, Box Turtles and Softshell Turtles, but no Snappers. I was very happy to see this one.

June 13, 2004 You just never know what you will run into on any given day at Brazos Bend State Park. The image below (TURTLE FACTORY) shows the eggs of a Red-Eared Slider (or Red-Eared Pond Slider, Chrysemys scripta elegans) as they are being deposited by a female turtle. ourse.  Actually, I've seen a number of turtles excavating their nests. I've just never been able to catch one laying eggs. The picture below left (DIFFERENT FEMALE) shows the face of turtle I caught excavating a nest back in May. There is a closer look at the eggs (ANOTHER LOOK), and then the remaining two pictures are frames from short video clips that I took.
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                       TURTLE FACTORY                                                     A  DIFFERENT FEMALE                                         ANOTHER LOOK AT THE EGGS                             AN EGG DROPS INTO THE NEST                                    COVERING THE NEST
                                                                                                                           ONE EGG DROPS VIDEO 391KBCOVERING NEST VIDEO 1,232KB
                                                                                                                           DROP AND ARRANGE EGG VIDEO 664KB
I didn't leave one of the clips full length, because of file size, but I was able to catch to eggs dropping with the pause between them. After each egg was deposited, the female would reach under and set it into place with her left foot (see the DROP AND ARRANGE EGG VIDEO 664KB ), then she'd lean over and release the next egg. One of the park visitors asked me a couple questions I couldn't answer. According to my Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, these turtles nest in June and July. The female lays 1-3 clutches (nests like this one) of 4-23 oval eggs. (That was one of the questions.) Hatchlings emerge in (and therefore incubation time is) 2 - 2 1/2 months (that was the second question), but often overwinter in the nest.
When she finished, the female efficiently covered the nest, using her broad, webbed hind feet as shovels and trowels (see COVERING NEST VIDEO 1,232KB ).  Watch as she sweeps dirt in, and packs it down with the "knuckles" of her rear feet; then sweeps in more.
My comment about "breakfast" is unfortunately often true. You'd have to see the surface that these females sometimes excavate in to believe how hard it is. One thing that the female will do is urinate on the ground to soften in for her digging. Although she covers her nest well, this urine may leave a distinctive odor that egg-stealing carnivors (raccoons, and possibly otters) can detect. I often see the curled, white remnants of turtle eggs plundered and eaten. In the images below, I show one of these nests. The first image (PLUNDERED NEST, below) the excavated nest is in the foreground, and the curled remains of two shells in the upper left. The next image (RARELY INTACT, below) shows more of an egg than normally remains. By the way, there were eggshell remnants from this nest were close (about 1-2 feet) to the water's edge. A hint, perhaps of where the egg stealers came from and went to. The last image (SPIDER RESIDENT, below) shows a very small spider has taken advantage of the turtle's disaster by making a home in the shell. No...I don't think that spiders raided the nest.

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              PLUNDERED NEST AND EGGSHELLS                                          RARELY INTACT SHELL                               SPIDER RESIDENT IN SHELL

Remember folks, animals at the park belong to the *park*. It is against the law to harrass, capture or kill just about all of them ; and this includes our reptiles--such as turtles laying eggs along our trails (one *may* legally fish in the park (following applicable state fish licensing laws). No frogging (of ANY kind) or taking of crayfish is allowed.). Please leave our reptiles and amphibians alone, and let other park visitors enjoy sights like this one.
A couple more items:   THEY'VE FIXED THE PILANT SLOUGH FLOODGATE! Now, if we can get some rain and fill it, the Slough should remain filled! Excellent!
And...I've seen large groups of Nephila Clavipes spiders. Evidently, mass hatchings have occurred over the last couple weeks (I was busy elsewhere in the park, so missed checking on the area with the highest concentration of these spiders for about 2 weeks. Rats....I wanted to see that.) I've tried to photgraph the groups I've seen, but can't get a good shot that shows both the size of the clump, and what is *in* the clump.

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                                                                                                      RED-EARED SLIDER
May 15, 2004; I saw this female turtle (see RED EARED SLIDER, above), digging a hole to lay eggs into next to one of the trails.

June 02, 2002  Now TODAY started out nicely. As I was driving into the park, I noticed a van coming in the opposite direction had stopped. When I got closer,  I saw that its driver was allowing a turtle to cross the road. When I got closer, I saw it was a Box Turtle! I stopped, and carried the turtle across the road. Then I ran back, got my camera, and snapped a picture. (BOX TURTLE, below)  Finally, after a  busy day, I was on my way back to the Visitor's Center, when I noticed a park visitor looking closely at something in the grass.  As I drove by, I saw him pick up something that looked like a turtle. So, I turned around and checked to see what it was. It annoys me when visitors harass our animals.  It was a Spiny Softshell Turtle, which I'd been trying to get a picture of.  So, here it is. (SOFTSHELL, below.)  The visitor, it turned out, had rescued the turtle as it was crossing the road. He was taking pictures of it, also. After this, he released the turtle.

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                     BOX TURTLE                                                                 SOFTSHELL

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