Monday, May 30, 2016

Interesting Facts About Snapping Turtles

Common snapping turtle
Photo courtesy of Brad Gratwicke
Snapping turtles are bitey creatures that are found in the United States, Canada, and northern South America. There are three known species of snapping turtles–the common snapping turtle, the alligator snapping turtle and the Florida snapping turtle. All of these species have powerful beak-like jaws that can easily bite off a person’s finger or toe, hence the name. Do you want to know more about these favorites of leisurely fishermen? Read on.

Snapping turtles are strictly fresh water turtles. You can spot them in lakes, ponds, streams and marshes. They are omnivorous. They eat vegetation, snakes, fish, crayfish, carrion and insects. They can go for days or even weeks without eating.

Most snapping turtles are grey, brown, green or black. They have long tails in comparison to other turtle species and have smaller shells than other turtles. In fact, their shells are so small that they cannot pull their heads and bodies in like other turtles. That leaves more of their bodies exposed.

A fully grown common snapper’s carapace is usually between 10 and 18 inches long. These turtles can weigh between 35 and 60 pounds. An alligator snapper can grow to be up to 200 pounds with a carapace of up to 26 inches. Common snappers can live 30-40 years, sometimes longer in captivity. An alligator snapper can live 20-70 years; they can grow to be even older in captivity as well.

Alligator snappers have the second strongest bite strength of all the creatures on Earth, according to some sources. Others say they have a similar bite strength to humans. Either way, they can take off a finger, so don’t let one bite you.

Alligator snapping turtles have spiky, plated shells and can stay underwater for up to three hours. They also have a worm like protuberance growing out of their mouths that is used as a fishing lure.

Snapping turtles mate from April to November and will lay up to 83 eggs at a time. Females can store sperm for years so they can reproduce even when they don’t have a mate. They lay their eggs and leave them. They do not rear their young or even care for the eggs. The eggs take between nine and eighteen weeks to hatch and their sex is determined by the temperature of their surroundings during the incubation period.

Snapping turtles are known for their aggressive behavior, though they are usually only aggressive on land. When they feel threatened, they will hiss and may even give off an offensive odor. They can also strike very quickly with their jaws, so injuries from snapping turtles are relatively common.

These turtles spend most of their time in the water with the exception of nesting females. If you do see one out of the water just avoid it and be sure to keep your eyes open for others. Do not attempt to pick up these turtles, they have long necks and will bite if provoked. They hibernate in mud burrows during the winter so it is highly unlikely that you will see them at that time.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Tennessee's Elephant Sanctuary

In Hohenwald, Tennessee, there is a 2,700-acre stretch of land like no other in the United States. It is the Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee. This vast stretch of land is home to numerous African and Asian elephants and their understanding caregivers. It is the largest place like it in the country and its reach is global.

The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee was founded by experienced elephant trainers and elephant enthusiasts Carol Buckley and Scott Blais. Their mission was to create a place where elephants that need special care can get it, while enjoying a life that is as free from stress as possible where they can roam in a natural habitat created for them. All of the animals Carol and Scott take in are former circus and zoo animals that have spent their lives cooped up and handled extensively. The Elephant Sanctuary gives them a life that is free from those hindrances.

The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee contains three separate sanctuaries for the animals. There are specially designed barns and elephant "houses" on the property. Six years after the sanctuary opened, a 700-acre parcel was added, which includes a 25-acre lake. Eighteen hundred and forty acres were added in July of 2003. Since that time, no more land has been added, but the most recent purchase is being improved for pastures. Elephants are known to roam tens of miles each day in the wild. The land at the Sanctuary allows them to do so comfortably, whereas zoos and circuses often do not provide space for their elephants to roam.

If you want to see animals in captivity, go to the zoo, the circus or Las Vegas. The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee has no such animals. The environment they create there is as noninvasive to the creatures' lifestyle as possible. The Sanctuary is not open to the public and the animal caregivers are not there to interfere with or control the natural behavior of its inhabitants.

The caregivers at the Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee use a technique called "passive-control" in the handling of the Sanctuary's elephants. The animals do not perform and are not asked to bend to the will of the humans who care for them. No negative reinforcement is used and the animals are never denied food, water, shelter or social interactions. They are allowed to express themselves, as elephants are wont to do, without interference from caregivers. The animals are never chained, either. In fact, Sanctuary leaders are vocal in their opposition of this tactic, which is common in elephant handling.

The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee is home to only female elephants. At this time, there are 13 living there. They keep only females because male and female Asian elephants do not live together in the wild. Nonetheless, the Sanctuary is open to taking in male elephants that are in dire need of care and has done so in the past. Sadly, their only male inhabitant was very ill when he was confiscated from his owner and brought to the sanctuary. Despite every effort from the Sanctuary, he passed away within months of his arrival.

The Sanctuary is involved in several education programs, both locally and globally. Part of their mission is to educate children about elephants and the plight of the endangered Asian elephants. These animals will not be around forever if we do not take responsibility for our part in their population decrease. Keeping them in zoos and circuses is not enough. In fact, it is only more of an affront and those elephant-lovers at the Sanctuary want to spread that message.

Try to catch a glimpse of Sanctuary elephants on their EleCam.


The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, retrieved 11/3/10,

Passive Control Elephant Management, retrieved 11/3/10,

*This establishment is run entirely on donations and is a non-profit organization.