Common Snapping Turtle at Huntley Meadows Park

Last Sunday, I went to Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia, a 1,425 acre county park. If you are familiar with Alexandria, you know that it is densely populated and very developed suburb just south of Washington, DC. It is not a location where one would expect to find an unspoiled, natural area of forests, wetlands and meadows, that also is known for its significant and diverse wildlife population.

While there, I saw and photographed a variety of birds and turtles. Yes, turtles! I guess it is the boy in this old man that still finds turtles fascinating. There were River Cooters and Common Snapping Turtles, and a lot of each, but it was the snapping turtles that caught my attention. That is probably because of nearly losing a finger to one that I was trying to help as it tried to cross a street a couple years ago. I always stop to help turtles cross streets, but I have learned since that encounter how to safely handle snapping turtles. If you have not been close to one, they are very aggressive with a nasty disposition when out of the water, and have long necks that are capable of reaching far behind them very quickly and powerful beak-like jaws that can easily remove a finger or deliver a nasty, painful bite.

The snapping turtles were feeding on vegetation growing in the wetlands of the park. Since the wetlands were very dry, due to a lack of rain over the summer, the turtles were congregated in the small remaining areas with water, which made them easy to observe and photograph.

The Common Snapping Turtle is a large freshwater turtle that can be found in shallow lakes, ponds and streams in most of North America. Snapping turtles are omnivores, eating both vegetation, fish, birds and small mammals that venture too close. In fact, while at the park, a snapping turtle lunged at and grabbed a Lesser Yellowlegs, which is a fairly large shorebird, and pulled it below the water before it somehow managed to escape.

Snapping turtles were so named because of their ability to quickly bite, which is something they not only do to feed, but it is also their only defensive mechanism, since their heads are too large to retract into their shells like most other turtles. When in the water, snapping turtles are much less aggressive and will typically flee from people.

Snapping turtles mate from April through July, and the female will lay between 20-50 eggs. When the young turtles hatch, they instinctively know to head toward water.

The images in this article were taken with a Nikon D800 and 600mm lens with a Nikon TC-14E teleconverter.  The opening image within the park was taken with a Nikon D700 with a 28-300mm lens.

About Stephen L Tabone

Retired Executive Consultant and Nature Photographer
This entry was posted in National and State Parks, Nature, Wildlife and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Common Snapping Turtle at Huntley Meadows Park

  1. Kee Woo Rhee says:

    Oh, my! Snapping Turtles! I am so glad that you didn’t lose your finger to him.
    The turtles look so huge. I wonder how old this turtle might be.
    I have never seen such a long necked turtle before! Thought turtles have a short necks.

    I am not much of outdoor naturalist, but I learn great deal from your postings!
    Today, Habitat of a Snapping Turtle!
    That turtle in the picture is looking at me!

    Steve, you have a way of narrating the scene so well. Thank you!

  2. Anne says:

    Kee Woo beat me to a response and said it exactly as I would have. The Snapping Turtle is certainly not a pretty guy and now I know that he can be quite dangerous, too.

    I, too, was wondering about his long neck and thinking, “How does that go back inside his shell?”

    My favorite is the one of him looking right at the viewer … quite a lovely composition. Great photos and this blog post demonstrates what an artist you are when you can take the unattractive Snapping Turtle and make it both beautiful and interesting.

  3. clover58 says:

    One spring, we had a female snapper in our yard. There is a creek and a small canal near us, and turtles often come into our yard to lay eggs in our sandy soil. She was huge, compared to the other turtles we usually get and, as you said, very aggressive! Great view of the turtle looking right into the camera!

  4. Mac says:

    Not a really good photographic specimen but extremely interesting nevertheless. As many of us have heard the term “snapping turtles”, I for one had never actually seen one. A beauty contest they should not enter. Very educational and informative information. And kudos to the photographer for his patience and skill.

  5. Pam says:

    I think their eyes are so pretty. It is impressive how sharp the focus is considering the turtle was moving around. I rescue turtles on the road too, but quickly learned that snappers have to be carefully scooted off the road – never picked up. Don’t want to lose any fingers!

  6. Fantastic photos! I love turtles. We do not have snapping turtles here in Georgia. We have box turtles, but I rarely see them. I learned a lot from the info above!

    • Again, thank you for your comments Karen. You may have snapping turtles in Georgia. I have seen them in Florida, although the ones that I have seen there are Alligator Snapping Turtles, which definitely look different, but with the same nasty disposition.

  7. Mac says:

    There’s a vast difference from snapping turtles and snapping great photographs; I’ll take the latter any day…

  8. Pingback: Species Spotlight: Turtles - My Outer Banks Home

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