A Desperate Rescue   3 comments

SNTU -105 was the one hundred and fifth turtle, out of six hundred and sixty-five turtles, to be admitted to the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre in 2011. It was a memorable case. A large female snapping turtle, she arrived in terrible condition. As is the fate of many female turtles in the spring, she was hit by a car as she migrated from her home in the swamp in search of the perfect spot to lay her eggs.

Snapping turtles are different from other species of turtles in that their plastron (the bottom of their shell) is much smaller than their carapace (the top part of their shell). While many species of turtle are able to pull themselves completely into their shell when confronted with a dangerous situation, snapping turtles do not have this option -their shells are too small! Instead snapping turtles only defence on land is aggression (in the water they will almost always swim away from danger). Often motorists think that they can “straddle” a turtle with their car to avoid hitting it, but a snapping turtle sees this as a threat and will snap at the undercarriage of the car, often leading to severe head injuries, such as broken jaws, crushing wounds to the head and shearing wounds of the carapace. Such was the case with SNTU-105.

When she was admitted, SNTU-105 was in rough shape. She was lethargic and large portions of her carapace had been sheared off. Her head had been hit as well, leaving her with a broken jaw. She had lost a lot of blood and was very quiet and unresponsive. Immediately SNTU-105 was given pain meds, antibiotics and fluids. She began moving around a bit when she was given her needles, as I’m sure you or I would too!

SNTU-105 was left overnight so that her pain medication had time to set in and so that she wasn’t overstressed. The next day she underwent sedation and had her jaw wired and her fractures secured with special brackets and wire. She was then x-rayed and it was discovered that she was a mother-to-be! It was clear that she had been struck while on her way to nest and still had 22 eggs inside of her!

Over the course of the next month SNTU-105 reluctantly laid her eggs one by one. Each egg was carefully collected and placed in an incubation box and kept at an optimum temperature in the turtle nursery in hopes that they would eventually hatch. In the wild, less than 1% of turtles survive to adulthood! This is due to being heavily preyed upon by raccoons, skunks, and other predators as well as many other factors. By incubating SNTU-105’s 22 eggs, we could be making a huge impact on the snapping turtle population!

As SNTU-105’s eggs slowly developed over the course of the next few months, she continued to undergo treatment. The extent of her wounds meant that she had to have bandage changes every day in order to keep infection out. She underwent daily bandage changes for nearly four months! Finally enough scar tissue had formed that she was able to be without the protective covering of the bandages and was finally able to be moved into deeper water where she could hide and feel safe. She was also very hesitant to begin eating on her own as is the case with many of our injured patients. It’s hard to eat when you’re not feeling well! After many weeks of providing her with juicy earthworms and delicious fish, she finally began eating on her own, which was a huge relief and meant that she was beginning to feel better!

Due to the extent of her wounds, SNTU-105 has been kept over the winter to ensure that she is fully recovered and ready to go back into the wild by the time spring comes. When turtles hibernate, their metabolic rate slows down and makes it much more difficult for them to heal themselves. By keeping them over the winter, they do not go into hibernation and therefore continue healing at a normal rate.

One of SNTU-105's fifteen healthy hatchlings

SNTU-105 is now waiting for the weather to warm enough for her release, but she will not be going alone! In August, the first of her eggs began to hatch. A tiny head popped out of one of the eggs and surveyed the world for the first time. It was the first of 15 of the 22 eggs to hatch; a huge success!!  SNTU-105’s babies are now patiently waiting for spring to arrive so that they can be released back into their natural habitat.

– Olivia Vandersanden


Posted April 12, 2012 by thinkingturtles in Uncategorized

3 responses to “A Desperate Rescue

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  1. so cute. i love turtles! great picture of the hatchling 🙂

  2. I’ve heard that, when a turtle is in the middle of a road, or crossing a road, one should move the turtle to the side where it is facing so it won’t get run over. Also, I’ve heard that snapping turtles should not be picked up by the tail, since it may injure their vertebrae. What is the proper way to move a snapping turtle to the side of the road?

    • Hi John!

      You are absolutely right. If you know which way a turtle is going when you find it crossing a road, it is always best to move it in the direction it is travelling – as long as you yourself can do this safely. If you move it back to the side of the road where it started from, it’s probably going to try crossing again. Turtles do not move randomly – they generally have a destination in mind. They are determined and will probably try again if you interrupt their travels. Obviously the rules change if the turtle is trying to cross a 4-lane highway which you can’t safely cross either!

      You are also correct that it is not a good idea to pick snapping turtles (or any turtle) up by the tail. Their tail is not designed to support their weight (which can be considerable!) The other popular but inadvisable method I hear a lot about is to “get the turtle to bite a stick and then drag it”. This sometimes works, but it can also badly hurt the turtle.

      If you want a way to move the turtle without hurting it, some options are:

      1) my favorite: lift the turtle up by the back of the shell, slide one hand under the shell and lift. Hold the BASE of the tail with your other hand to stead it, but don’t put the turtle’s weight on the tail. Snapping turtles can reach about 2/3 of the way back towards their tail, but they cannot reach the back of their shell. What they can do is scratch you, and they will be scared when you pick them up, so be ready for flailing hind legs with sharp claws on them. I usually try to carry some heavy gloves in my car during nesting season to make this easier. As you know, they usually snap pretty quickly at you too, so it will look like they can almost reach their tail – but they cannot.

      2) If you take one of your floor mats out of your car and if you can convince the turtle move onto the mat, you can drag it on the mat. I find this more stressful than picking the turtle up, but everyone has a different comfort level.

      3) I have heard of people using large shovels which they carry in their car to move snappers (they basically get the turtle to walk onto the shovel and sort of slide them off the road this way). Again, I think this is more stressful for the turtle which gets shoved along the pavement. But as long as the whole animal is on the (large) shovel so that there is no risk of abrasion from the pavement, this can work too.

      For anyone reading this who didn’t know about the downsides of picking snapping turtles up by the tail and has moved turtles off the road this way – well, now you know and you have some other options. But please don’t feel badly – you didn’t know, and you took the time to move the animal out of an extremely dangerous situation, probably saving its life. Feel good about what you did, and use a different method next time! And spread the work – I still hear way too many people suggesting the tail method!

      I will try to post some photos of ways to hold snapping turtles in the next litte while. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday!

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