Tim Walsh’s Testimony On Snapping Turtles

The following testimony by Tim Walsh of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich not only helped our legislative effort to protect snapping turtles, but it serves as a good summary of the science of the issue. Turtles still need protection. This bill only offers protection from commercial trapping. Habitat loss and resulting highway mortality are still threats to the majestic Snapping Turtle.

I am one of a group of citizens who have been urging legislation to protect snapping turtles from commercial trapping since 2012. This year, HB5354, A Bill Concerning Snapping Turtles and Red-Eared Slider Turtles, passed the Environment Committee 19-0, and an amended version of it passed the House of Representatives 141-0.

Please accept this letter as support for a cessation of legal harvest for the common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina in the State of Connecticut. Turtles are ancient creatures that walked the earth with the dinosaurs and today are important and visible elements in many ecosystems. Many species play key ecological roles, serving as both predators and prey, contributing to the cycling of nutrients, and acting as seed dispersers. Currently, turtles are the 2nd most endangered vertebrate group in the world. Approximately, 53% of the world’s species are threatened with extinction. We are not talking about just an endangered genus or species of animal, but an entire family. The decline of turtle species throughout their range is being fueled by habitat loss and modification, highway-related traffic mortality, and collection for the pet trade and human consumption.

Snapping turtles in Connecticut are heavily affected by highway-related traffic mortality. Hundreds (even thousands) of large, reproductive females are killed yearly on our roads and highways as they make overland travel during annual nesting forays. The loss of one mature female from a population represents the removal of an approximate reproductive output in excess of 30 eggs annually, over the course of a 40-80 year lifespan. It has been well documented by turtle biologists in every part of the world that the unnatural removal of mature females from any population can and will cause a population decline. These declines can take decades until they are noticed due to turtles’ long lifespan. Recovery of populations can take additional decades if it is even possible. When you factor in the unnecessary harvest of females for human consumption, the other threats work in negative synergy, which excessively and effectively decimates populations. In addition, much of this harvest does little for the economy in our state beyond the small price the trappers receive for their specimens. Much of the harvest of North American turtle species ends up in Asian markets. These markets fuel even more trade in turtles around the world for pets and human consumption. This trade is happening daily, is relentless in its greed, and has been continuing since the early 1990s, and shows no signs of halting.

Snapping turtles are ubiquitous in the wetlands and rivers throughout the state and are one of the most commonly observed turtles second only to the painted turtle. This visualization of their commonness belies the truth of their fragile biology. I urge you to support regulatory changes that end the harvest of this species in our state and keep them visible and important elements in our landscape.

Timothy Walsh

  • Collection Manager, Bruce Museum, 1 Museum Drive, Greenwich, CT  06830-7157
  • Invited member, IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group
  • Assistant Director, Florida Turtle Conservation Trust