Snappers - Threat To Wildlife
Inside the Outdoors, July 15
, 2011

I received word last week that snapping turtles in St. Vincent Lake near St. Vincent College are eliminating the duck population at the lake. This troublesome news comes after the fact that much of the waterfowl populations have recently expanded their families and may have as many as seven ducklings each swimming beside the mothers.

My informant told me that these turtles are not only consuming the ducklings, but the mothers have also been eaten by these “underwater hunters.” I asked him if he was sure about his conclusions and he assured me that what he was telling me was the truth.

Needless to say, that is very disturbing. I understand that nature has its ways and some things have to be as God planned them, but regardless, it still hurts those of us who really love and treasure the great outdoors.

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the “Common snappers are noted for their belligerent disposition when out of the water, their powerful beak-like jaws, and their highly mobile head and neck. In some areas they are hunted very heavily for their meat, a popular ingredient in turtle soup. These turtles have lived for up to 47 years in captivity, while the lifespan of wild individuals is estimated to be around 30 years.”

I will attest to the fact that turtle soup, when made properly, is one of the tastiest soups one can ingest. It tastes like a vegetable soup, but a whole lot better. I was treated to a sample some years back at a Kingston Club Catfish Derby, and never forgot the wonderful goodness as the ingredients melted in my mouth.

“Snapping turtles have “fierce” dispositions; however, when encountered in the water, they usually slip quietly away from any disturbance. Snapping turtles have evolved the ability to snap because unlike other turtles, they are too large to hide in their own shells when confronted. Snapping is their defense mechanism,” it said.

“Common habitats are shallow ponds, shallow lakes or streams. Some may inhabit brackish environments, such as estuaries. Common Snapping Turtles sometimes bask – though rarely observed – by floating on the surface with only their carapace exposed, though in the northern parts of their range they will also readily bask on fallen logs in early spring.” I have seen them doing just that on the Loyalhana Creek. You can’t let them see you, or they will slide into the water and disappear under a submerged log or boulder.

“Snapping turtles are omnivores, consuming both plant and animal matter, and are important aquatic scavengers; but they are also active hunters that prey on anything they can swallow, including many invertebrates, fish, frogs, reptiles (including snakes and smaller turtles), unwary birds, and small mammals.” It’s right there folks. Ducks are included as part of their menu. Swell.

“Snappers will travel extensively overland to reach new habitat or to lay eggs. Pollution, habitat destruction, food scarcity, overcrowding and other factors will drive snappers to move overland; it is quite common to find them traveling far from the nearest water source. This species mates from April through November, with their peak laying season in June and July. After digging a hole, the female typically deposits 25 to 80 eggs each year. Incubation time is temperature-dependent, ranging from nine to 18 weeks.”

It may be of interest to know that snappers can be found in all the area lakes, Loyalhanna Creek, particularly where the bigger holes are, especially at Vulcan Hole, Paddy’s Hole, Shelving’s Rocks, and The Hole and the Trestle in Legion Keener Park area. Outside of the area, fishermen have hooked into numerous snappers at the handicapped boat launch area at Conamaugh Lake. These creatures will dig their feet into the mud to prevent themselves from being hauled in. If a fisherman finds himself in this predicament, it is best to cut one’s line.

There is a special rig people use to catch turtles using enormous hooks called turtle hooks. Anything smaller will prove to be fruitless and time will be wasted trying to drag them into the shore. Hot dog pieces are usually a common bait, so I'm told.

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Talking to an angler at the Loyalhanna Trading Post the other day, I asked where he thought we could catch fish. “I would suggest trying farm ponds now that it is much warmer.” If, however, you chose Lower Twin Lakes, nightcrawlers seem to work the best as a live bait option. I caught nice bass and bluegill while others caught a range of various species using that same bait. One fellow even caught a yellow-striped turtle of unknown species. Had three rows of black splotches evenly spaced on its orange bottom. Made me wonder if someone transplanted it from an aquarium. Maybe a reader can help.


- Paul J. Volkmann
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