East Texas Snappers: Say No To Snapper Soup!
Snappers generally do not leave the water to venture out on to land. Traveling turtles are most commonly spotted after heavy rains or during drought conditions. During a drought snappers are known to roam in search of water. On other occasions, female snappers may wonder on land to look for a proper nesting site to lay her eggs.
East Texas snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles can be defined by their shells. The alligator snapping turtle, also known in East Texas a the “loggerhead,” has three rows of spines along their shell, while the common snapping turtle has a smoother shell.
Snapping turtles prefer a body of water with a soft, muddy bottom. In such an environment the snapping turtle can transform itself into an ambush predator. The snapper burrows into the mud, leaving only it nostrils and eyes exposed, poised to strike. Snapping turtles are opportunistic predators and scavengers. They consume a wide variety of food such as algae, water hyacinth, crayfish, insects, amphibians, fish, birds and mammals. A common misconception regarding the snapping turtle is that they are bad for ponds and small lakes. Studies indicate that the snapping turtle diet consists of mostly plants, small crustaceans, insects, and fish that were already deceased.
Snappers provide a unique service to Texas waterways. Due to snapping turtles being considerably slower than most healthy species of fish, they mostly consume unhealthy fish. Snapping turtles improve the quality of fish by culling unhealthy fish and create healthy aquatic ecosystems.
Turtles are cold-blooded reptiles and become inactive during the cooler months. They can often be spotted basking in the sun on logs and rocks. Sun bathing helps turtles maintain and regulate their body temperatures. When a turtle’s temperature dips below 50 degrees they retreat into reptilian hibernation, otherwise known as brumation. Turtles often burrow deep into the ground where they will sleep until the warmer weather arrives. When warm weather returns they begin feeding , mating, and eventually laying eggs in the spring.
Snapping turtles in the Pineywoods are often rumored to reach massive sizes and weights. Nearly 30 years ago, a man living in the Liberty Hill Community near the Neches River bottom claimed to have captured a turtle that weighed close to 500 pounds. He said the turtle was on the bank and became very testy. He said he threw a rope around the turtle’s head and tied him to a tree. While no one ever saw the giant turtle, plenty of people say they saw they massive skull that was left behind from the testy turtle.
According to old wives’ tales from the Pineywoods, East Texas legend holds that if a snapping turtle bites, he won’t let go until it thunders! The snapping turtle has a ferocious reputation in the Pineywoods. They have long necks and strike with snake-like speed. They also hiss like a snake when threatened or angry.
East Texas snappers are hunted for their meat and shells. They have been declared threatened and endangered in several states. The alligator snapping turtle is protected in Texas and cannot be harvested.
In Texas, you can catch and possess some 25 different species of turtles with the proper license. Turtles may be harvested commercially in Texas, however a non-game permit is required and turtles may only be sold to purchasers with a non-game dealer’s permit.
In Texas, turtle meat sells for about $17.50 per pound. There are approximately 50 dealers in the Lone Star State, which purchase almost 100,000 turtles annually. Wildlife biologist are become increasingly concerned with the number of turtles being captured and sold to China and other Asian markets for turtle meat. Turtle soup is a delicacy enjoyed in Asian countries, but not as much as of lately since they have depleted their soft-shelled turtles, almost to extinction. Nearly 10 years ago, an ad ran in several East Texas newspapers offering top dollar for snapping turtles. Trappers and hunters who responded to the ad said the turtles were being harvested for the purpose of making turtle soup.
Other than turtle trappers and hunters, Texas turtles also face threatening circumstances such as vehicle mortality and their continually depleting habitat. Turtles are slow at a lot of things, including maturation and reproduction. It takes roughly 15 years or more for a snapping turtle to mature, but if it reaches maturation its lifespan could reach 150 years, maybe longer.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been asked to protect the alligator snapping turtle, which is disappearing from the state, even in the wild region of East Texas. In order to protect the turtles, conservation groups are insisting the last remaining log jams along the Neches River be conserved, especially if the National Park service designates the Neches as a Federal Wild and Scenic River. Some believe the clearing of waterways considered to be prime paddling trails is killing off the reptiles who make their homes in log jams. Last year some 20 miles of log jams were cleared along the Neches river to make way for the Davy Crockett Paddling Trail.
If you happen to snag a snapping turtle use extreme caution when handling them. They will bite and their jaws are powerful. Release the snapper and return him to his natural habitat as close to the spot where he was caught as possible.