Thursday, August 11, 2011

Litter picking is an All Season Sport - Why did the turtle cross the road? South Burlington, Vermont

Plastic diet deadly
Why did the turtle cross the road? One common whimsical answer is, “to get to shell-ter”. Near my home in South Burlington, Vermont, one turtle about the size of a small hubcap crossed the road and the sidewalk in nearly a snap, but found the rest of the journey littered with obstacles.

At first mistaken for a discarded knapsack, the olive green to brown bony-shelled creature lifted its powerful jaws and agile neck garnering the first spectator.  Five clawed toes on each foot seemed as fit for a badger as for this aggressive species though the long tail was most turtle like.  Though not displayed as of yet, the sharp horny beak would later confirm any doubters that this was a snapping turtle. Snapping turtles cannot withdraw their large heads into their shell. With no place to hide, the large aberration continued to attract onlookers and bystanders.

The near record temperature that mid-day in June had already approached ninety degrees making even slow moving turtles question why they were out walking about. No one walking down the sidewalk could look any less happy than this snapping turtle.

How to help; from the children to the adults lining the sidewalk, discussion ranged from “do nothing” to “where to transport the creature to safety?” With little ado, our neighbor, standing behind the now aggravated visitor, reached down, grabbed the turtle by the shell as far back as possible, attempting to move the snapper into a dog crate we had positioned directly in front of the snapper.  In a flash “Snappy” extended her thick neck back over half the length of her body. With beaked jaws opened wide enough to capture a wrist, she fell just short of clamping onto her predator’s fingers. 
                                                                                                            Photo by BLPaquette

Even now long after the successful carriage of the snapping turtle to a nearby stream in the woods I still   have visions of that large gaping beaked jaw arching across the turtle’s back and locking onto one of the handler’s appendages.

Edward Hoagland in his essay, The Courage of Turtles, wrote, “Turtles cough, burp, whistle, grunt and hiss, and produce social judgments.” Before leaving us, our visitor declared, “Don’t trash my environment or I will snap at you”.  

Trash on our sidewalks, roadsides, and other public areas as well as on business properties are obstacles to our health and feeling of well being. When asked why YOU crossed the road, make the answer “to pick up a piece of littered trash to improve the next person’s journey.”

Save your fingers. Pick up littered trash wherever you see it; allow snapping turtles to cross the road on their own.