Polluted Habitats Force Snapping Turtles To Move Into Urban Settings
August 28, 2013

Polluted Habitats Force Snapping Turtles To Move Into Urban Settings

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

People swimming in the Midwest’s lakes and ponds are often on the lookout for snapping turtles, which are said to be capable of taking off fingers or toes with their powerful jaws and sharp beak.

A new study published in the journal Urban Ecosystems indicates that human pollution and waste could be increasingly forcing these turtles out of their more natural habitats and closer to humans.

"Snapping turtles are animals that can live in almost any aquatic habitat as long as their basic needs for survival are met," said study author Bill Peterman, a post-doctoral biologist at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "Unfortunately, suitable aquatic habitats for turtles are being degraded by pollution or completely lost due to development. We found that snapping turtles can persist in urbanized areas, despite the potential for more interaction with humans."

Despite the increasing odds of contact between the two species, Peterman said people have nothing to fear from the scary-looking reptiles.

"Everyone has a snapping turtle story, but some are just too far-fetched and lead to false accusations," Peterman said. "In reality, snapping turtles aren't aggressive animals and won't bite unless they are provoked. So, if you should happen to see one around your property, simply leave it alone and let it go about its business."

For the study, researchers examined the urban environment around the Central Canal that flows through Indianapolis. Using tracking devices to monitor turtle movements, the researchers found that snapping turtles roamed the entire canal, but were chiefly dependent upon wooded areas.

"While we didn't study whether the snapping turtle populations were increasing or decreasing, we regularly saw hatchling and juvenile snapping turtles," Peterman said. "Snapping turtles may not be the first animals that come to mind when thinking about urban wildlife, but if we continue to improve waterways in more places, such as big cities, than the species can coexist peacefully."

The Missouri biologist added that reducing waste, harmful chemicals and other by-products of human activity into waterways will help bring back snapping turtles' more natural habitats. These reductions would have the added benefits of increasing biodiversity in waterway habitats and improving the quality of life to species living in those habitats.

While snapping turtles commonly inhabit freshwater shallow ponds, lakes, or streams, they have also been spotted in brackish waters. Often preferring to rest in the mud on the bottom of a body of water, snapping turtles are omnivorous – eating everything from plant matter to small mammals.

The turtles travel across land to lay eggs or reach a new habitat. As their natural habitats decline near urban environments, snapping turtles have been increasingly seen traveling long distances from their watery sanctuaries.

While snapping turtles do have a pretty mean bite, they typically prefer to slip away from larger animals when in water. Snapping is thought to be a defense mechanism that evolved because the turtles are too large to hide in their own shells when confronted. Experts recommend against keeping them as pets since they are highly capable of biting human captors, even when being picked up by the side of the shell.