Thursday, June 19, 2008

Snap Decision

I'm weeding along like a maniac in a fallow bed, hastily pulling big morning glory vines out of it so I can plant the last of the leek transplants (special for M., one her favorite veggies), when a clod of dirt starts moving.

This is not really that unusual, even though it's disconcerting every time. After I jump, I'm excited and curious.

Usually it's a big fat toad, well camouflaged by speckles and warts. We love seeing toads (hm...none so far this year, but the weather is still quite cool.) This time it was a baby snapping turtle!
We have not found a snapper on the farm before. Usually they hang out in ponds and streams, going cross-country mainly in the fall as they seek out wintering spots. This one had probably been wandering around in the ubiquitous mud, thinking the whole farm was a wetland, and ended up just outside the chicken coop.

I treat snappers with extreme respect. They are dangerous animals. They can grow very large, and they are very strong, and when they bite they don't let go.

But this little guy wasn't very active...seemed like he had had a hard day for some reason. Maybe he had been IN the coop, and the chickens had tried to have him for breakfast? And he WAS only about 4" the size of the palm of my hand. So I picked him up gingerly by the tail, and went to show him to M., who happened to be talking to the tree service guys bringing in a load of wood chips.

One of the tree service guys was captivated. I don't think he'd ever seen one before. "I'm a biology major at Haskell (Indian Nations University). Let me take him and I'll release him in the wetlands (on the Wakarusa River, near the Haskell campus...a beautiful place)."

I debated. Normally my policy is that creatures found on the farm stay on the farm...aimed at preventing enthusiatic 5-year-olds from dragging home hapless frogs, etc., to unimaginable, unintentional torture. Also, well...this is their HOME! I don't want to be dragged off to some strange place, either! Microbial compatibility between the critter's destination and its original habitat is also something to consider. Moving across town, to a different wetland, might be the turtle equivalent of going to Mexico and having to drink the water.

But in this case I relented. Though I'm excited to be aware of a wider diversity of reptiles on the farm, snapping turtles are not high on my life of good neighbors and esteemed community members. It's bad enough that garter snakes and herons go fishing in the stock tanks, depleting our populations of essential mosquito-larvae-eating goldfish. But at least they are not likely to seriously bite hapless fingers cleaning muck out of a tank. Sort of in the same class as ticks...part of a diverse ecosystem, and I'm sure God had SOMETHING in mind when He created them, but I'm not "getting" it.

And, I'm sure snappers are like mice...if you see one, you have ten. This guy was hatched this spring, I'm guessing, and probably had quite a few littermates, so I doubt I've decimated the population by contributing this youngster to the young man's education. I'm also pretty sure Haskell wetlands already has LOTS of snappers, so we're not likely to introduce anything new there, unless he had hitchhikers like leeches. He looked pretty clean, though...I've seen big ones with whole water gardens on their backs, including various "pets". Turtles can be significant vectors for spreading other life forms between bodies of water.

His much as I know of the names that scientific humans know him by...will be read in the Reading of Names.

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