Saturday, April 28, 2007

Writing For Your Turtle Carrying Protagonist

Driving home from work yesterday I noticed a lady standing in the middle of the road. I slowed. At her feet rested a larger snapper.

“Nice turtle.” I said.
“Can you help me get it across the street?”

So I pulled off the road.

photo showing proper way to handle a snapping turtle

As I hopped out of the jeep, I noticed a student from my school who had arrived just prior me. He was reaching down to lift the turtle... by its shell (insert gasp).

“Grab it by its tail. Its tail! I shouted.”

The snapper reached back with fire in its eye and hatred in its belly (Wow, isn’t that the worse thing you have ever read? I should write romance novels!)

I never saw hands retract so quickly as the boy stood at attention.

“Uhm, you want to do it?”

I was glad too. I live for this stuff. I lifted the snapper firmly by the base of the tail and carried it safely across the road (with no gratitude from the ticked-off turtle I might add).

The lesson learned:
Snapping turtles have powerful jaws and long necks that can reach way back. The only safe way to carry a snapper is by the tail.

If you are writing a story and your protagonist has to carry a snapping turtle, make sure your hero carries the turtle by the tail not the shell (or have your hero get bit).


Chris Sanders said...

I had a similar experience yesterday (woman had stopped her car for a snapping turtle and wanted help getting it back across the road), so I decided to do a quick internet search for safe snapping turtle handling techniques. According to wikipedia, "it is a common misconception that a Snapping Turtle may be safely picked up by its tail, with no harm to the animal; in fact, this has a high chance of injuring the turtle, especially the tail itself and the vertebral column". I wasn't sure how far back the turtle could get its head, so I passed on manually handling it and opted instead to get a big box, which I nudged the turtle into before safely transporting him across the road. I knew that their beaks were strong, but I wouldn't have guessed that "a full grown snapper can easily nip off a finger" (wikipedia again)........yikes!

Andrew Alford said...

Definitely not by the tail! I just came rescued a snapper myself on Lincoln Hwy in Iselin, New Jersey. My wife spotted it as we were driving back from nearby Roosevelt Park. I was concerned about the serpentine neck and powerful jaws, but didn't want to see this creature killed -- I imagine we have so few of them left, especially in Jersey. I picked it up by its carapace, from behind the back legs, and lifted it off the ground. It raked a claw into my thumbnail and thrashed enough to loosen my grip. So picked it up again, and swerved it around -- again close to the ground, in case I had to drop it -- and pointed it in the opposite direction. Then I tried to scare it into the grass -- didn't exactly scare easy, though. Don't know if this will keep it from attempting the road again, but had to try.