Written by Curator Emeritus Bob Glotzhober
Imagine the surprise of OHS staff when looking out of their windows at the Ohio Historical Center museum in Columbus to find a large Snapping Turtle crawling along in the grass below the windows! Who would win the staring contest with this critter?
Being just a couple of miles north of the center of downtown Columbus, we don’t expect to see such animals! Actually, it was seen several times over a period of a week or two. One of the last times it was spotted, it was in the small pond in our Bird Sanctuary.
Back in November of 2011, this blog site introduced our readers to the Ohio Historical Society’s Bird Sanctuary–a small area outside the windows from the Archaeology exhibits–which includes native plants and a small pond to attract birds, butterflies and other native wildlife. The pond in the Bird Sanctuary is an artificial pond built with a rubber liner and it measures only about 10 feet by 12 feet across. The snapper was easily 10 to 12 inches long so it took up a major portion of the pond.
After a series of such sightings, the OHS Education and Outreach staff, whose windows are just a little east of the Bird Sanctuary, decided it was time to take some action. Mark Butler cornered the snapper and managed to get it into a large plastic storage tub. An important side note is required here. Snappers have very long necks, and powerful jaws. A snapper the size of this one could take a huge chunk of flesh out of your leg, or maybe even remove a finger! So you don’t want to just grab it by the shell, or it will stick that neck out, twist around and nail you. The preferred method is to get behind it, grab the tail, and remember to lift it well away from your leg! Best bet yet, leave it alone until youve learned how to safely pick one up by watching someone more experienced.
Shortly after they got the snapper in the tub, I got a phone call asking if I could come and take it to some natural pond. The pond should be much larger than our tiny, decorative water source and I had a good one in mind not too far outside of Columbus.
A little after I got the phone call, I met the Education and Outreach staff and they transferred the snapper to me. Of course, first we all had to pose for a brief photo op!
The big question in my mind was (and still is) Where did this Snapping Turtle come from? How did it find its way to our tiny little “backyard pond”? Our museum is at least a mile or more from the closest small stream and that is another mile or more from the Olentangy River. Would this turtle have traveled a mile up a very small tributary, then another mile overland and across railroad tracks and roadways to reach our museum? After lots of thought, I remembered the various ponds in the Natural Resources area of the Ohio State Expedition Grounds (aka State Fairgrounds) which is just across 17th Avenue from our museum. They have several nice ponds that they use for lumberjack shows, kids’ fishing and wildlife habitat displays. Even these are probably a good mile away but at least there is only one road (17th Avenue) to cross. Most likely someone introduced the snapper to part of their displays, and the wandering snapper perhaps looking for a mate found its way over to our small pond. Snapping Turtles are known for their wandering habits, but this seemed excessive. Amazing!
I’ve done three other blogs in the past, subtitled Wild in the City. Each of these, starting in October of 2011, talked about unexpected wildlife in and around our museum or our collections storage buildings or in the Ohio Village. Here is a short list of the topics and links to them.
Ringneck Snake Inside Warehouse>; Oct. 17, 2011
Buck Deer in Bird Sanctuary; Nov.16, 2011
Fox in the Village>; Feb. 3, 2012
The story for the Snapping Turtle ended well. Later that same afternoon it was released next to a two-acre pond not far from one of central Ohio’s many major streams. There should be lots of water to swim in, food to eat, mud to hibernate in, and of course other snappers for company, or whatever!
Senior Curator, Natural History