Snapping turtles smell like the swamp. I stopped for one crossing the highway in the rain this morning on a fast stretch of road that slices through the largest inland wetland in Connecticut. This is the season when gravid females haul out from the ooze and journey overland looking for suitable high ground to lay their eggs. Often the gravel of a road embankment has the characteristics they seek, which exposes them to the twin perils of traffic on paved roads and graders on gravel ones.
This is a vulnerable time for these otherwise fearsome turtles. Their nests are prone to racoon raiders and hungry skunks, both of which have seen their populations spike thanks to the forgaging opportunities presented by human habitation and its associated garbage. Road crossings can be perilous for snappers, though in this respect they fare better than smaller wetland creatures like migrating amphibeans that are flattened in their thousands on warm spring nights. I found a shattered spotted turtle just a bit further along this stretch of roadway last week, and stopped to see whether it was indeed this declining species or the federally threatened bog turtle it resembles.
So I brake for turtles, even snappers. This one did not appreciate my efforts when I hefted her by the tail and carried her across to the other side of the road. She hissed from deep within the underbelly white of her formidable mouth, and right away I caught the thick, foetid odor that clings to these turtles as if they were part of the reeking mire itself. This is nothing, however, compared to the stench of the common musk or "stinkpot" turtle", an unassuming little creature that seems to me to have been steeped in effluvia and then glazed with clotted slime. Had she been one of these, I might have looked for something other than my bare hand to move her with. As it was, the snapper was quickly on her way and I on mine, and neither of us the worse for wear.