Snapping turtle expresses displeasure at being plucked from pond

[Video Link] Todd Bieber made a fascinating short film about a self-styled snapping turtle expert who encounters a snapper that tries to bite him in the face. (The fellow could be a stand-in for Will Ferrel!) I learned many things from watching this, but two things stand out -- 1. Snappers release a foul smell when you mess with them. 2. Don't mess with them.

Also, Todd is co-producing a documentary about "turtles, kids and the environment" and is seeking funds via Kickstarter.

Turtle Derby Documentary


  1. I feel like the title is misleading, the Will Ferrell guy actually seems to know what he’s doing and I didn’t see any near-misses…also, what moment in the video are you talking about when you say the turtle “tries to bit him in the face”? The turtle tries to bite his arm and hand but I didn’t see it going for his face. And to DeWynken, he wasn’t actually trying to save that turtle from anything, he just brought it out so he could demonstrate how to handle one (grabbing by the tail, putting hand under the belly) in case anyone watching ever finds a snapping turtle on the road. Probably safer to just try to flag down cars to slow down and maybe push it along using a branch or something though…

    1. Jesse,

      Watch the video closely and tell me which part (minute and second mark) comes the closest to the turtle trying to bite the man’s face. I will score you on your answer.

  2. Classic

    “Can you smell that…musky scent? These snappers will release a musk.
    Would, uh, anybody else like to hold her?”

  3. re: “turtle derby,” i’m sorry that middle-class america and its wacky antics are such an irresistable topic for hipster filmmakers, but it’s not cute or fun to take a wild animal from its habitat, regardless of how much it may entertain little billy or little susie. i’m sure many of these turtles end up dead either from negligent care as “pets” or from being carelessly and incorrectly released. the world’s population of turtles and tortoises are under a lot of stress no thanks to humans, so the very least these people can do is leave the poor creatures to their own devices.

  4. Ah that explains it. Watched it with the sound off and Cypress Hill providing theme music for the face/off moment that failed to manifest itself.

  5. I watched and came to the same conclusion as Jesse M. Didn’t seem to me the dude’s face was ever in danger of being bitten. I thought it was going to be more comedic than it was because of that, nothing like an expert being jacked by his subject. Instead, meh.

  6. We had a snapping turtle about twice this size in our office parking lot a few weeks ago. We were afraid that it was going to get hit by a car if we waited for it to move on its own, so we called animal control. They told us to pick it up and move it. I said you must be joking–they’re called snapping turtles for a reason. So an animal control “expert” eventually showed up with a towel that she draped over the shell. She then tried picking it up by grabbing the middle of the shell and nearly lost a finger. She eventually managed to move it to a safe place without injuring herself, but that was more by luck than through any expertise. Seriously, guys–don’t mess with snapping turtles.

  7. Since most of us don’t know what the turtle was thinking we’ll probably never know if it tried to “bite the man’s face.” Maybe it would have been content with biting anything that would free her?

    However, it seems that there is nothing in this video that even remotely depicts a man “almost getting [his] face bitten off.”

    1. This would be unremote enough to my face that I would be concerned about my nose: . You, on the other hand, are one fearless cookie. Good for you!

  8. I am a dedicated turtle-across-the-road helper. But it’s hard to help a snapping turtle. They can rotate like a gun turret faster than than you can move around behind them. And they are 100% belligerent 100% of the time. The only way is to get a stick, hold it by their mouth, and then when they lock those jaws on (in approximately 1 second) you can carry them to the other side.

    I don’t worry about snapping turtles at all in the creeks. I worry about water moccasins. Much more plentiful, much more disguised and even more pissed off.

  9. Hey Mark, Why try to unnecessarily sensationalize. Just title it, “Super Cool Snapping Turtle Will Farrell Look Alike Guy”. This isn’t Gawker.

  10. I was in a situation like this too. A snapping turtle was crossing a narrow, tree-and-wall-lined country road, right by a bend that limited visibility.

    I parked far enough away that my car wouldn’t get hit, then approached the turtle. Mein Gott, what a primordial beast! I was at the “look for a big stick” phase when a police car showed up. I pointed the turtle out to him; he put on his blinkies and waved me on my way.

    1. I think the description should be changed back. At 2:22 the turtle totally strikes at his face, right around the time he says “NOBODY IS GOING TO HURT YOU. CALM DOWN.”

  11. Yahoo-ism from Boing Boing? I expected to see blood. Misleading headline. For those of you who now want to go save the snapping turtles, you have no idea what these things smell like. From every indication I got from the video, this guy was never in any danger whatsoever because he knows what he is doing. Nary even a close call on this guy almost losing his face. Honestly? I respect this guy about a million times more than Will Farrel. Easily.

  12. My dad was a conservation officer in Ontario. We lived in a small tourist town, right by the bridge crossing the mighty Saugeen river. Early Sunday morning, snapper strolling across the bridge. Tourist stops his car in the middle of the bridge, jumps out to pose with the turtle while his wife captures the event on 8mm (this was the early ’60’s). Tourist points at the snapper’s formidable beak with his pudgy index finger. Snapper takes offense. Finger is *gone*, in the wink of an eye. Tourist’s screams can be heard for blocks.

    Luckily, the hospital was about 4 blocks away.

    In related events, about 2 years later another tourista appeared at the front door holding an injured and hugely pissed off great blue heron he’d been trying to rescue. Dude was bleeding profusely because his left forearm was impaled on the herons beak, which had punched neatly between the radius and ulna then gotten kinda wedged in place between the bones. He was eager for dad to kill the bird, disimpale him and patch him up so he could continue his holiday in peace.

    Great blue herons are a protected species in Ontario.

    Dad took the guy to the hospital for proper treatment, making damned sure the birds health was of higher priority than the tourist’s.

    My dad was awesomely cool.

  13. I’ve helped a couple snappers across the road by dangling a rope (cotton lead rope for horses) in front of them and letting them latch on, then dragging them into the grass. Both times, a few minutes of patient waiting and they released my rope and trundled on their way.

    1. This is exactly how we moved a snapper, only with a broom handle. We held out the handle, he grabbed hold, we dragged him off the road. It helped that we were 6, 10, and 11 so he seemed a lot bigger and scarier.

  14. We had one of those in a small lake on my parents ranch when I was a kid. I was out in a rowboat with my mother and saw a lump about 2 feet across sticking out of the water. She said it was mud. I said it was a turtle. We rowed over and poked it with an oar. To this day, the oar still has the imprint of the turtle’s beak in the wood. Scared the crap out of me. I don’t know if this was something special, but “ours” had star-shapes around his eyes; almost like little feelers or something. (Or maybe he was just a big fan of Elton John – I don’t know.) It looked absolutely unworldly. After that, I refused to go wading in the lake ever again. Over the years, we found shells – both smooth and with spikes on the back – from 18″ to 2 feet in diameter in the swampy areas around the lake. I think Nessie lives there too… *shiver*

    1. “… but “ours” had star-shapes around his eyes; almost like little feelers or something. (Or maybe he was just a big fan of Elton John – I don’t know.)”

      It’s a little-known fact that all snappers are huge David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust-era fans.

  15. It is a common misconception that common snapping turtles may be safely picked up by the tail with no harm to the animal; in fact, this has a high chance of injuring the turtle, especially the tail itself and the vertebral column…It may be tempting to rescue a snapping turtle found in a road by getting it to bite a stick and then dragging it out of immediate danger. This action can, however, severely scrape the legs and underside of the turtle and allow for deadly infections in the wounds.

  16. I “rescued” a snapping turtle crossing a freeway access road about a dozen years ago – but I was properly cautious, with good reason! The local Houston bayou suddenly turns into a concrete lined drainage ditch (thank you, Army Corps of Engineers) and the confused critter climbed the sides looking for a more comfortable place to be. I happened to have a sturdy animal carrier and carefully herded the snapper into it – with a found piece of plywood which shortly had a few “v-shaped” notches in it (Yikes, they’re fast!).
    I then drove it to a nearby “real” bayou a mile or so away – but now the turtle would NOT back out of the carrier. I kept shaking it over the muddy bank while trying to keep a respectful distance (that was 3/4″ ply it bit clear through!) til finally one back foot (with GIANT claws, btw) slipped into the mud. It clenched it’s foot in the mud for a sec, then slowly backed out (as I quickly backed away!) and swam off into the murky water.
    Probably would not try that again – scary creatures & you wouldn’t believe how far and how FAST that head can reach around!

  17. Aww he has an itty bitty snapper. How cute. These things get ginormous. I mean, “I’m not going in the lake if that thing is in there because I’m afraid of losing a leg ginormous.”

  18. Can I get a show of hands from other people whose Grandpas delighted in demonstrating snapping turtles in washtubs biting broomsticks in half?

  19. My favorite part is how he seems to think the snapping turtle just doesn’t speak English, and thus reacts the way we all do when faced with someone angry who doesn’t understand us – speaks louder and slower. “NOBODY IS GOING TO HURT YOU. CALM DOWN.”

  20. when i was a kid, we went to this animal conservatory. we were all sitting in an oval room about 20′ on the long axis, 12-15′ on the short. this conservatory dood carried a big snapper in, maybe 50% bigger than this one, with some kind of turtle carrying harness that they’d rigged up, and set him on a stool in the middle of the oval. then he told us it could easily bite off a finger and had an 11 FOOT neck. as we all pressed back against the walls, he said… “my bad, i mean 11 INCH, you guys are fine.” we all had a good safe laugh, but i avoid bothering them at all costs.

  21. He looks as much like Elliott Gould as Will Ferrell, but I guess the latter is more popular with the hipsters today.

  22. I cringed the entire time waiting for the bite to the face, only to be let down once again.




    Oh – also, now I won’t swerve to avoid them when I see them crossing the street. Other turtles – avoid at all costs. Snappers – aim for ’em.

    Anyone know how bad the “musk” is vs. that which skunks exude?

  23. Looks like northerners get “common snapping turtles”, but the south gets giant “Alligator snapping turtles” with yellow eyeliner and eyelashes and up to 100’s of lbs. Seriously scary looking things.
    The only thing more threatening I’ve seen was an Alligator Gar (sensing a theme here) washed ashore by a flood – spotted it while running. Tough bugger: swam off after sitting out all night (used a LONG stick). I’ve since decided southern bayous were meant to be admired from a safe distance …

  24. I live near a marsh and I saw a snapping turtle wandering from it towards the railroad tracks that run along the marsh. I think it was looking for an egg laying site. Anyway, I wanted to save it from being smooshed by the train and went to (carefully) lift it from as close to its back end as possible. Well that neck is longer than you think and it let out one hell of a hiss. I backed off and bid it adieu and good luck!

    FYI, I didn’t find any smooshed turtle later so I guess it ended up ok.

  25. I grew up with snappers. I remember fishing off the dock one day and a head not much smaller than a bowling ball popped up out of the water about a dozen feet away. Between that and the eel incident and the occasional pike, I only swim in pools.

  26. One of these snappers lived in the pond of my home town, it was the ‘beast of the pond’ myth for ages.
    There were tales from dog walkers who saw ducks suddenly get dragged under the water by something big but no one believed them.
    The guardians of the pond finally discovered the beast was a 20lb 2foot snapping turtle that pigged out on wildfowl, small dogs and children.

    Okay… maybe not unusual for the Americas but this pond was located in Caldicot a small town in Wales, UK.

  27. I just skipped into 1/3 of the video. So i saw this guy in the pond and the narrative voice spoke so calmly, so gentle that i honestly thought that pond guy died and that’s some kind of memorial video. Like “He who sat next to a turtle”

  28. A little tip if you happen to find one of these crossing the road and wish to save it from a concrete demise.

    Before you “release” it, check around its neck for leaches and use a stick to get them off. That is what happened the last time I picked up one of these guys in Florida, its neck was infested with leaches. It seemed like the only place he couldnt scratch and I am sure it bothered him to no end.

    When I waved off my little buddy I imagined him thanking me in some fashion, perhaps pooping on me was his way of doing so.

  29. Poor Old Chelydra, he never got a kiss!
    Poor old Chelydra, he don’t know what he missed.
    Is it any wonder that is face is red?
    Chelydra, you poor old snappin’ head!

    (Thanks, Hank!)

  30. That was just a little guy. Here in Georgia we have ‘Alligator’ snapping turtles. Some of them are the size of truck tires with a head like a bowling ball. Very tough customers.

  31. if the film is about helping to understand the snapping turtle and ease up the fearmongering, the narrator does it a great disservice. the expert shows how to safely pick one up from the road, but his last response is a fearful ‘stay away from them.’

  32. I was walking down the local greenway one day and there was a smaller (about 6″ diameter shell) snapping turtle sunning itself on the middle of the paved trail. There were a group of people walking their dogs about 100 yards away and I was thinking that the encounter wouldn’t go well for the turtle and/or the dogs. I was afraid to pick up the turtle, so I thought I’d prod it with a stick to get it moving. I touched its tail and it *jumped* about 6″ in the air, spun around, and snapped at the stick with an audible click. I left it alone and told the dog walkers to make a wide circle around it.

  33. I used to work in wildlife rehabilitation for our local humane society. It’s not recommended that you get snappers or other turtles to bite onto sticks or other hard objects since they are so strong they can dislocate thier jaws from doing so.

  34. I had heard of them, luckily, but the first Alligator Snapper I ever saw still surprised the hell out of me. I moved it of a highway. Their necks are unexpectedly long, about as long as their shells are. They are ridiculously fast for something called a turtle and still very fast compared to a mouse trap. They have claws, jaws, spikes, rasps, sharp edges and points. Not cuddly! They defecate when fucked with and get really angry. The odor isn’t really that bad, it’s washable unlike a skunks spray.
    Snapping turtles don’t want to be your friend and show no gratitude at all for having their lives saved. But I can still count to ten and I’d do it again.

    Has anyone ever thought it strange that there are ponds with both snappers and cooters? Or are those slang terms too southern to understand?

  35. I think this would make a much better video for “Go Outside” than that Jonestown footage.

  36. My mother was born in 1916 and lived on a small farm. Her father was 59 when she was born and had a stroke while she was still a teenager. Needless to say her family was not wealthy during those hard times.

    Turtle used to be considered a delicacy around where I live. As a teenage girl my mother used to turtle. She would walk through the creek feeling for cavities up under the bank, where turtles might be hiding. When she found one, she would blindly reach up into the hole and if she found a turtle she would run her hand down his back feeling the ridges, so she would know which end to grab. I suspect she was not concerned about injuring the turtle, since he was headed for the pot anyway.

    My mother had all her fingers and toes.

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