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…

This entry was posted in General, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography and tagged , , , , , , by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

14 thoughts on “An Unexpected Traveler

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

    • 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!

      • 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.

  3. 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.

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


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