An Unexpected Traveler

My sons and I were at our family’s prairie and farm this weekend.  At one point, we noticed that the cattle seemed agitated and were making a lot of noise and milling around.  We walked up to see what was going on, and when we got close enough, we could see that the cattle were focused on an animal of some kind that was slowly making its way through the grass. 

A snapping turtle and some very agitated cattle.

I’m not sure if they’d ever seen a snapping turtle before, but it was clear the cattle weren’t happy about having it in their pasture.  They took turns charging at it and making angry sounds that would have intimidated most creatures.  Whether because it was unworried or just figured the best way out of the mess was to keep going, the turtle just kept steadily moving through the short grass toward the distant pond. 

After watching for a few minutes (from a safe distance – agitated cattle can be unpredictable), I took pity on both sides of the dispute and hauled the turtle off toward the pond.  I’m not sure what it’s going to find for food there – maybe some of the countless tiny leopard frogs we saw along the banks – because I don’t think there are any fish.  Maybe it’ll just enjoy a short respite from its bovine tormentors before setting out across the landscape again.

I wish him luck.  The cattle, on the other hand, probably have less charitable thoughts…

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
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14 Responses to An Unexpected Traveler

  1. Best cow photo ever. Cows – aren’t they funny.

  2. Tom Prunier says:

    Those are very impressive paws and claws. Not sure any warrior ever wore them in his necklace tho. Wonder if it was looking for a sandy spot to lay eggs.

  3. Anna says:

    Poor cows! Poor turtle! That snapping turtle is huge!

  4. jtrager says:

    Did you notice the big leech on the left-anteriro portion of its shell?

    One time I watched a snapper laying eggs. She was in a sort of trance, seeming not to notice us observers, nor the lines of ants cutting up and carrying off the three leaches on her shell!

    • Chris Helzer says:

      It always comes back to ants, doesn’t it…? Yeah, I saw the leech – several actually. And I’ve got a few photos of them, but decided not to add them to the post. I wondered how long they could last out of water, or if that was even an issue for them. Didn’t think about them being ant food!

  5. Deb says:

    SO how do you move a snapping turtle?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Carefully! : )
      Safest place to grab one is by the tail – and hold it far from your leg as you walk…

      • AE Nash says:

        The safest way to move a snapping turtle is to grab hold of the sides between the legs. If you have a towel, you can cover up the entire body, including the head, grab the sides, pick up turtle and move.

        The turtle can still ‘snap’ — throw its head forward and it is unnerving! Moving a turtle by the tail, part of the spine, can result in injury.

        About 1/3 of a common snapping turtle’s diet is plant material so the pond should have something for food.

  6. Sam Stockton says:

    I had a friend who once found a snapping turtle on the road so he pulled over and it of course wouldn’t let him help. So, he went down the road and grabbed an old tire. He used the tire to bait the turtle and when the turtle grabbed onto it, he picked it up and plopped him off the road.

  7. Pingback: Photo of the Week – December 4, 2014 | The Prairie Ecologist

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