Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ecofeminist Excursions: The great snapping turtle adventure

It was a quiet Sunday morning at the Rolfe house until Chris returned from a short run to the store and told me, "There's a huge turtle on the lawn down the street."

It's rather ironic that he would encounter a turtle, because we just sponsored one at the Lloyd Stage Nature Center in Troy.

Of course, I had to go see for myself.

This was one big turtle. It was very prehistoric looking with a long tail and a huge head almost the size of my fist. Chris and I tried to determine if it was a "snapper" a.k.a the common snapping turtle or chelydra serpentina.

Some sage advice I received while studying biology at Oakland University -- "If you come upon a snapping turtle -- turn around!"

Instead, I stayed to her back and gently probed her with a dry flower stalk to see if she would snap at me. She didn't. Her head went down, but not all the way into her shell.

I continued to probe her back legs -- very carefully -- with my finger. This should have been a give away because snappers can't retract and her legs remained outside the shell. Still, I remained clueless.

Our neighborhood is not an ideal place for a turtle. First of all, there's traffic and she could be run over by a car. Second, many of our neighbors use chemicals on their lawns that are not healthy for turtles and other living things, and third, the only water source is a drain that runs through our subdivision.

So, the Rolfes performed a turtle intervention -- probably against the advice of most wildlife experts.

Chris went back to the house and returned in his truck with gloves and a large tub we use to mix potting soil.

I donned the gloves, picked up the turtle -- which was surprisingly heavy -- and set her in the tub. Together we rode home in the truck bed.

She was strong and tried to escape the tub. I had to gently restrain her until we reached the house.

She never once hissed or snapped at me. Hmmm ... maybe this wasn't a snapper. Could this have been someone's pet?

Now what? I don't know anyone who does turtle rescue.

We tried to think of a place that would make a better home for her.

We loaded her -- with some effort -- into a large cat carrier and transferred it to my car. We headed north.

We wanted a quiet, relatively safe place where she would have water, plenty of food, and minimal human contact.

We found that place to be Bear Creek Nature Park in the Charter Township of Oakland. The 107-acre park is a snapshot of the township's landscape before it was settled in 1827 and radically changed by humans.

Here was the perfect turtle habitat.

We found a secluded marsh area, opened the carrier, and set the turtle down in the mud. She eventually made her way into the water and submerged. Her head bobbed to the surface once, then she was gone.

When we returned home, Chris logged onto the internet.

"What kind of turtle do you think that was?" he asked me a few minutes later. On his laptop's screen was a picture of Michigan's largest turtle -- the snapper -- who looked just like our new friend.

"You're lucky you still have your fingers," Chris said.

She might have been a female ready to lay eggs -- that would explain why she was out and about looking for a sunny spot for her nest. Also, the female of the species might be less aggressive.

Or, I was just really lucky she didn't bite me.

This was the latest chapter of our wildlife encounters since we moved to Troy 10 years ago.

I hope our reptilian friend is happy and safe in her new home.

Blessed be, fellow earthlings.

Read more about Michigan's turtles -- including the snapper -- at

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