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Tampering with turtles is testy

Larry Woody • Jun 21, 2017 at 8:30 AM

A giant snapping turtle was found at Center Hill Lake back in the spring and biologists are puzzled about how it got there, since the species prefers the warmer waters of West Tennessee.

They couldn’t ask the turtle, because he was dead. Apparently the climate didn’t agree with him.

The alligator snapping turtle is a relatively rare species and is being stocked in some West-state waters as part of a TWRA restoration project. I’m not sure that a lack of alligator snappers is a big concern for most folks, but I guess they have as much right to be here as the rest of us.

Turtles can take a toll on aquatic wildlife and even domestic fowl. When my mom was a little girl she had a flock of baby ducks that hatched on the family farm pond. Turtles got them all.

On the other hand, turtles perform a valuable service as nature’s sanitation workers. They clean up dead fish and other carrion that would otherwise create a mess in and around the water.

The common snapping turtle can be caught or trapped in Tennessee, its harvesting regulated by size and creel limits. The TWRA devotes a section of its Tennessee Fishing Guide to turtles.

When I was a kid one of my uncles cooked a turtle. He said the fried meat was delicious, white and tender. He said it tasted like chicken.

I decided to give it a try after catching about a 3-pounder while bluegill fishing. The turtle bit the worm I was using for bait, and I hauled it in.

That was the easy part. Next, how to dispatch it?

Without getting too graphic, I poked at it with a stick and the turtle clamped down on it. I pulled its head back, exposed the neck, and did to it what my grandmother did to chickens on the chopping block.

That was that. Well, sort of. Unlike grandma’s chickens, the decapitated turtle didn’t give up. I finally got the top shell separated from the bottom shell, but wasn’t sure where the meat was located.

A turtle gives off a pungent, unpleasant smell. The combination of the musk, the mess and the movement was too much. I gave up, dumped the still-kicking carcass in a tow sack, and hauled it off to the woods.

Wonder if the possums that ate it thought it tasted like chicken?

According to an Old Wives Tale, if a turtle latches onto a body part it won’t let go until it thunders. I always wondered how Old Wives knew that. Did they come across someone with a turtle hanging onto his toe and sit down and wait until a storm blew up to see what happened?

I don’t trust gossipy Old Wives.

Meanwhile biologists are trying to figure how the big Tennessee snapper ended up out of its natural habitat and in the cold, clear waters of Center Hill Lake. One theory is that someone caught it elsewhere, decided they didn’t want it, and dumped the big, ugly, stinky critter in the lake.

Based on my past turtle travails, I can certainly understand why.

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