Snapping turtles were everywhere

Story and photos by Derek Doeffinger

Well not quite everywhere, but last week quite a few decided it was a good day to visit the canal towpath. I saw them as I pedaled my bike toward Lock 29 Macedon. Their presence wasn’t a surprise. Snappers on the towpath is a late spring ritual that lasts for about three weeks.

The female snappers, most about the size of big dinner plates, begin coming out in late May to lay their eggs. They usually start scraping out a spot right beside the towpath. One might question the wisdom of creating a nest beside heavy bike traffic but the bigger issue might be the animal traffic.

The towpath appeals to snappers for two reasons: one, the close proximity provides the awkward and ungainly snappers a short walk and, two, the constituency of the towpath soil suits them. Its mixture of gravel and sand makes it easy for them to dig a hole to hold their eggs. I suspect its good drainage also appeals to them. On my ride last week, I saw about five snappers scraping away. On my ride yesterday, I counted fourteen nests (a bare circular patch of upturned soil) in a one-mile stretch. Several had been tampered with.

Snappers are not attractive animals. But their appearance is compelling. They definitely come across as watery warriors not to be messed with. One is even a television star. Raphael of the Ninja Mutant Turtles is based on the much larger alligator snapper.

Our turtles are Common Snapping Turtles. They are the official state reptile (I didn’t know there was such a thing). They get up to 35 pounds and 20 inches long.

As slow-moving and lethargic as these egg-laying snappers are, I didn’t get too close. My curiosity about their friendliness was answered when I was about 10.

Intent on depositing their eggs (20 to 40 ping-pong ball sized eggs) and returning to the safety of the water, they mostly ignored me as I took a few pictures. The digging, laying, and covering process takes an hour or two. Then the “mother” returns to the canal. The eggs are now on their own.

Having seen this spectacle for many years, I knew what would happen to most of the eggs. They’d get eaten. And so when I rode by some of the nests this week, I saw that several had been dug out, with broken egg shells scattered about.

I always suspected mink and raccoons, maybe even possums, feasted on the eggs. But one year I came upon a skunk excavating a nest. I believe they are a primary beneficiary of turtle eggs.

Perhaps the only thing more fearsome looking than a snapping turtle is the cuddly looking, stuffed-animal appearance of a skunk.

That leads to a final thought. Do snapping turtles fear the obnoxious spray of an angry skunk as much as we do?


Derek Doeffinger spent a few decades at Kodak explaining how people can take better pictures and then encouraging them to use Kodak products — especially digital cameras. That last part didn’t quite work out. Fortunately during his Kodak days he became an obsessed outdoor photographer, especially of Finger Lakes waterfalls. He’s written several photos books about the Finger Lakes and digital photography, and now has written quite a few articles for Life in the Finger Lakes.

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