Friday morning I almost lost a finger to a giant turtle’s angry jaw. I set off on my long run–a full 60 minutes at a delightfully slow pace–and as I approached a semi-major intersection outside our neighborhood, I saw a man standing in the street, just off the sidewalk, taking pictures of a turtle that had made its way into the road. The turtle was massive–its shell was literally the size of a toilet bowl lid.
“I know! I don’t want it to be run over, but I’m not touching that thing.”
“Hmm. How much do you think it weighs?”
“15 or 20 pounds? But look at those claws!”
Yes, I saw the giant claws. Yes, I know that snapping turtles snap. I’ll be honest; the image I had (…had…) in my head of snapping turtles biting was that of a cute little turtle holding onto someone’s finger–maybe a bit painful, but more annoying than anything else. (I just Google image searched different variations of, “snapping turtle bite cartoon,” and none of the results are even close to the mental image I had. Snapping turtles look like monsters.)
I did not want him to be hit by a car, and I didn’t know if he could get out of the road fast enough. What if I picked him up from behind? He couldn’t reach my hand with his mouth, and those legs would just slowly flail, as turtle legs do, right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
I approached from behind, put my hands on the shell, began to lift, and <SNAP!> In one impossible motion, before I had him far off the ground, he jumped–yes, jumped–spun himself 180 degrees, and lunged at me with his beak. I let go, stepped back immediately, and said to the turtle, “Well, good luck, buddy!” and I resumed running.
That night, as Andrew and I approached the same intersection on our way out to meet friends, I began telling him the story. I told him about seeing the giant turtle and how the man said he would not touch it. At this point Andrew interjected,
“Uh, yeah, you do NOT mess with snapping turtles!”
“Because they will bite your fingers off!”
“Yes, off! They are nasty animals!”
“Hmm. I didn’t realize that.”
A quick Google search confirmed that, yes, snapping turtles will bite your fingers right off. They have sharp teeth that cut rather than crush, and their jaw strength is comparable to that of humans. Who knew? (Andrew, and probably all of you.)
Then I started thinking, “What the heck would I have done if it had bitten off my finger??” I do not handle blood well (<–This is the understatement of the year. More on that another time.) I do know from a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy (absolute medical truth, right?) that fingers can be reattached. But what if it was in the turtle’s mouth? I obviously couldn’t risk losing a second finger to retrieve it. Oh, it could have been so bad. I am incredibly thankful that I’m not paying for my ignorance right now!
“We need to enroll you in a class about which wild animals are safe to pick up if found on the side of the road. Not snapping turtles. Not lions. Not tigers. Not bears. Let’s just say, none of them.” -Andrew
Am I the only one who didn’t know snapping turtles could bite fingers off?