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Close Encounter Near Deepdene Park

A longtime supporter of the Olmsted Linear Park had a close encounter with wildlife on June 12. It was early afternoon when Gail King drove along Ponce de Leon Avenue from Decatur back to her home. She spotted a very large moving object crossing the street near the intersection of Ponce and East Lake Road.  It turned out to be a huge Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra Serpentina) making its way slowly across the busy avenue from Deepdene Park. Gail immediately slowed and turned her car sideways so as to block two lanes of traffic heading west.  Another motorist also saw the turtle and used his vehicle to block the east-bound lanes. Then an observer who seemed knowledgeable about what he was doing lifted the turtle by the rear of its shell and carried it safely across Ponce de Leon in the southerly direction in which it was traveling. Gail estimated the turtle’s length at about 15 inches including a very large head. At one point the turtle snapped at the air and Gail could see pink inside the turtle’s mouth.

snapping turtle

Here is a picture of a Common Snapping Turtle – though not the one that Gail King saw on June 12.

Common Snapping Turtles are an ancient species that first inhabited Earth about 40 million years ago. The oldest turtle in captivity lived to be 47; turtles in the wild will usually live to be 30. They can grow to more than 20 inches and, in the wild, may weigh 35 pounds. Because a Common Snapping Turtle is so big, it cannot completely retreat into the safety of its shell. Thus, the “snapping” mouth helps protect it from predators. These turtles spend most of their lives in shallow water such as Deepdene Creek and are only seen out of water when the female is laying eggs. (Therefore our Ponce turtle was a female.) The female may go overland a great distance from its water home in order to lay eggs in sandy soil. She will dig a hole, deposit her eggs in the hole, and cover it with soil. Hatchlings will appear between 9 and 18 weeks. In our area, the peak egg-laying months are June and July. Subsequently, the mother turtle will return to her home in the water – which in this case may mean another trip across Ponce de Leon.

Common Snapping Turtles feed on invertebrates, fish, frogs, reptiles, and even small birds and mammals – with which Deepdene Park is replete. While in the water, the turtle will not be aggressive and, if approached, will usually swim away or hide. But the turtle crossing Ponce was more aggressive because it was out of water, in a very hazardous environment, and was picked up by a human. Let us hope that after egg-laying, she makes a safe return trip.

Contributed by Jennifer J. Richardson

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