Fond Memories about Lurking for Turtles

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This snapping turtle is smiling for his portrait.

Photo by Heather Sinion

This snapping turtle is smiling for his portrait.

The other day on the bike path in town, I caught a glimpse of one of those prehistoric looking snapping turtles passing his day in the murky, algae-covered water. He didn’t mind me too much and before long we both set off in opposite directions. I love any turtle encounter and feel like I spent much of the spring and early summer slamming on my brakes and darting across the street to help a turtle to the side of the road. My few encounters with snappers in the road caused me to be a bit more creative, as they aren’t quite as cuddly as the painted variety.

Fortunately, by this time of year, most of the turtles have completed their road trips. They travel over land to lay their eggs in June or July or to look for a new habitat. So, by now most of the females, who may or may not have been hoarding sperm for a year or two, have found a sandy spot to deposit their eggs. The females may lay 25-80 eggs in a sitting and they incubate for at least 9 weeks until the blessed event, hatching, is upon us. It’s time to keep our eyes peeled for these miniature terrapins. It’s not an easy road for the offspring, as just about every predator, big and small eats the eggs. And, if by some miracle they escape being eaten as eggs, the young turtles are a snack for many water birds and other mammals. Grown up snappers can’t let down their guard or they may wind up the main ingredient in soup. Despite these perils, the snapping turtles have earned nothing but a bad reputation when in fact, mostly they go about their business munching on aquatic plants and animals, scavenging and lurking.

As kids, we mastered the art of lurking, quite often on the back staircase during one of our parents’ raucous dinner parties when the gin and tonics were flowing. Once we had perfected lurking, we carried it over to our daytime routines, milling around, keeping off our parents’ radar. Eventually, would find ourselves at some pond where we would swim for hours despite our parents not knowing where we were, not wearing bathing suits or sunscreen. The whole experience was topped off by the presence of snapping turtles and leeches. We’d emerge, waterlogged but unscathed and if I am counting correctly we still all have ten fingers and toes. Our parents did not sweat the small stuff and swimming in a turtle infested murky body of water under the blazing sun was considered small stuff. Once we developed a taste for swimming the way it was meant to be, we decided pools were way too tame. One exception was a pool that came with a house in the country that some quirky friends of my parents bought. These friends were way too nonconformist to kowtow to all that pool maintenance rigmarole. So, they unplugged the filter and threw caution to the wind and rather quickly their pool morphed into a pond complete with floating plants, lily pads, frogs and turtles. The car engine would barely have stopped and we’d be submerged up to our scrawny necks in algae, on the lookout for reptilian companions. We’d spend hours sliding our feet across the algae encrusted bottom, dragon flies wizzing by our heads. Those were good old days. So when I cast my eyes on that snapper, I was happy to be brought back to our pond dwelling days in the sun. And with the dog days of summer upon us, I think I’ll go lurk by some body of water, preferably in it.

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