WILMINGTON — Thunderstorms are an inevitable part of long, hot summer days. While they may cause outdoors-oriented folk to seek shelter, they bring out an armored division of the reptilian kind.
The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) can be found all across the state, but is especially abundant in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, where there are many small water bodies and wetlands. While it breeds and lays eggs all summer, rainfall events that flood backwaters, ditches and small farm or stormwater retention ponds also give the turtles an excuse to seek out new territories. People see them crossing roads and open grassy areas such as pastures, golf courses and front lawns.
While I once caught snapping turtles to sell, as well as for personal consumption, I had not partaken of the culinary delights offered by a snapper for several years. Yet, here was a snapping turtle crawling, tank-like, out of a nearby sinkhole swamp to terra firma and straightaway to the bottom of my front porch steps. It could have posed a threat to the bare toes sticking out from my sandals had I not seen its nose poking from beneath the overhanging rosemary growing in our handy herb garden.
Grabbing the turtle by the tail ignited its secondary defense. A snapper’s primary defense is its hard shell. The turtle extended its neck, striking as fast as any snake, too quickly for a human to see the movement. After its jaws popped shut on empty air, its head turned sideways to gauge the distance between my forearm and its beak with one eye. We both knew my vulnerable skin and soft flesh were out of range. Snappers are dangerous to humans who do not know how to handle them. Whatever a snapper snaps into those sharp jaws, it gets to keep.
Once subdued a snapping turtle can yield a good soup. Tradition says that a snapper has seven different types of meat. I only know of one – the tasty, tender type. Yet it yields little edible meat when compared to its body weight and that meat comes at a dear price. Snappers are difficult to clean.