Folklore Legends have fascinated mankind since the dawn of human existence. In the world of Reptiles and Amphibians the stories of Monster Alligators in NY sewers...Anacondas as long as a school bus...and Bull Frogs swallowing children whole, are just a few of the many timeless gems.
Common Snapping Turtles are no different, in fact...Snapping Turtles are probably the most famous reptile for carrying the crown of folklore legend. Turtles the size of a coffee table, turtles that could bite a broom stick in half...ones that weighed over 100 lbs. The stories are always amusing, fantastical and impressive. The thrill of their possibility never fails intrigue, but it is very rare that one actually ever checks out.
This past week at the Snapping Turtle Count, which is taking place at Blendon Woods Metro Park, Coyote and the gang were giving a presentation when they were told of a 100 lb Common Snapping Turtle that was living in a pond at another park, Blacklick Woods. The teller of the tale guaranteed us that this turtle was the size of a coffee table, his head the size of a football and that he was easily 100 lbs.
Sounds great right...but what are the chances of ever seeing him...let alone catching the so said beast. Well, the other grantee was that he always hung around near the observation deck and we were sure to catch a glimpse of him if we waited long enough. Well catching a glimpse would be great...but on The Reptile Show catching glimpses isn't quite good enough...we needed to catch the Beast himself if it was going to be the kind of encounter we thirst for.
A scouting expedition was planned by Coyote Peterson and field photographer Mud Man Mark Vins for Sunday morning. The goal was to take a look at the location, shoot some pictures...maybe catch a glimpse of some turtles...and maybe even get lucky enough to catch a few decent sized ones...we did NOT expect to find a legend.
7:00 AM we showed up and began to scout Ashton Pond...a beautiful lily pad covered pond with dark water, ample bird life and dense forest surrounding it. The air was humid, sky overcast and drizzle was periodic. It felt like Jurassic Park as we scouted around the edges of the pond to analyze the lay of the land.
Eventually we made our way back to the infamous observation deck near the trail head to the pond. There we met an incredible group of nature photographers who backed up the story of this ginormous turtle. All of a sudden...one folklore story became a field fact based testimony by several nature photographers. Our hearts began to race and the adrenaline reached a new level of anticipation.
We spent some time on the observation deck and saw several Snapping Turtles coming up for air about 50 feet out...pretty sizable, ranging from about 15-30 lbs...but no true legend. Then it happened.
Mud-Man alerted Coyote that he had seen some movement off the left side of the observation deck...20 feet out...Coyote quickly grabbed the binoculars and just as the glass was about to meet his eyes the water exploded in a rage of fury, lily pads thrown about and the water immediately went cloudy...something big had just made a kill and that something was beginning to move our direction.
15 feet out and closing, the lily pads were parting to the side, disappearing beneath the surface as something trudged along the pond floor. A sea of bubbles from below the murky water exploded on the surface...10 feet...5 feet...and then it happened.
It was like that moment in JAWS...you know...where the shark swam right past the boat and Brody, Hooper and Quint, with their mouths gaped open could do nothing but watch as the shark swam past. Just below the surface swam the biggest turtle we have ever seen.
Coyote called out..."That's him...that's the turtle!" And in a "Brilliant Moment of Danger" without hesitation, without questioning the depth of the water...or the danger that swam beneath, he lept from the safety of the observation deck and splashed into the murky abyss.
In a wave of adrenaline Coyote grabbed hold on the back of the turtles carapace, the pond immediately exploded in thrashing as the turtle went bonkers and then slipped from Coyote's grasp! "NO...I lost him!" Coyote hollered! Then, in a miraculous, turtle god granted grab, Coyote somehow grabbed hold of the beasts tail with one hand and held on. The prehistoric beast's tail was bigger around then Coyote's arm, but found itself clutched in his hands...the battle was on!
Struggling to keep control of the fighting monster Coyote kicked his legs in the deep water, fighting the sinking mud and struggling with every bit of his life to get back to the observation deck. The most dangerous moment came when the turtle literally lunged from the water and went right at Coyote's face...just narrowly missing...and toppling them both backwards into the water. It was one of the most precarious situations we have ever faced, and the first that has nearly taken Coyote's face off...literally! The water was chest deep...the mud thick...sticks and algae grabbing at every move but Coyote was winning.
Finally, with a good hold on the fighting turtle, both contenders weakened and filled with adrenaline, Coyote put in the final push and hoisted the beast up onto the observation deck. The turtle immediately scrambled with 2 inch, razor sharp claws for the edge just as Coyote scrambled up, like the reptilian beast that he is, onto the deck and landed the legend of Ashton Pond!
A sea of photographs crashed like a wave over the moment as Coyote turned the turtle around toward the spectators, placed the still fighting beast on his knee, and began to present the segment for the cameras and talk about this incredible animal.
It was the catch of the summer and the moment of a lifetime to capture this overly impressive turtle in front of a group of nature photographers. If ever there were a set of good hearted folk who could appreciate the beauty of an animal such as this...they were all there this day, and in this moment. We cannot be certain that this beast is the biggest one out there...some of the photographers on deck claim to have seen a bigger one...however, this was undoubtedly the biggest of the 5 we spotted.
The legend may still be out there...and we hope he is...while this turtle weighed an incredible 46 lbs and measured nearly 3 feet from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, he does not break the world record of 76 lbs. Our catch sported a carapace of 17" long, 19.5" wide and nearly 36" in circumference. That is a BIG, BIG TURTLE! A second best all time for our team and without question the most powerful.
Look at the size of these claws...almost 2 inches in length and razor sharp. These are the biggest feet we have ever seen on a Snapping Turtle...incredible!
If a 100 lb monster really does exist in this pond...he will break the world record. We will return to Ashton Pond to officially shoot a sequence for the series, that goes without question...however, we are pretty confident in saying that this is the turtle everyone declares the legend, and rightly so, he was well worthy of such a title!
Water is a natural magnifier...and when you see an animal like this from a distance, under water, with its legs spread out and its shell floating on the surface...it can look a lot bigger then it really is. So to say that this beast looks 100 lbs...very feasible. However, that is not to discredit what this animal truly is...which is extremely above average for a Common Snapping Turtle. Our general rule of thumb is that for every pound a turtle weighs...it puts up an equal pound for pound number in fight and the difficulty of an environment. So to wrestle a monster like this from the water, get it landed and ready for photographs...this was easily our 100 lb plus turtle of the summer...so far.
It was an incredible adventure. Every once in a great while the turtle gods are generous enough to bless you with the chance to see one of their finest creations...on this day we were given the chance to catch it...and as we always say...you either get it right the first time...or you go home wishing you had.
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I'm Coyote Peterson, and this...is The REPTILE Show!