There are many old myths about the snapping turtle. Folks warn, “If a snapping turtle bites you, it won’t let go until it thunders,”and in places like Alabama, snappers are nicknamed “thunder turtles.” One colorful story about a New York fisherman was published in the New York Times, July 1885 –“Fighting a Snapping Turtle” http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=
F20C16FC3B5D10738DDDAF0894DF405B8584F0D3 It’s interesting how the farmer’s wife manages to leap from the lakeshore into the man’s boat, which was presumably at a distance while he was fishing, to save him from the “pesky critter.”
Some of the legends are partly true. For example, snappers sniff out carrion and rotting flesh—so police have (occasionally) benefited from following snapping turtles, which have led law enforcement to human remains.http://www.strangecosmos.com/content/item/141325.html But usually if a snapping turtle shows up on a police log, it is because someone called the Animal Control Officer, as happened last month in Boston: http://www.boston.com/yourtown/
It is also commonly believed that snapping turtles are fearless and aggressive to the point of attacking swimmers. Having swum among snapping turtles in a lake for many years as a curious child, who probably got too close on many occasions, I can say that I have never been attacked by a snapping turtle (nor was my brother ever bitten). Snappers aren’t fond of deep water, so it would be rare to come across one while swimming in deep freshwater. But there are probably rogues or circumstances that lead a turtle to bite a human. Here is a video of a researcher rescuing a snapping turtle from a net, in which the turtle is prompted to bite the scientist, who has just explained that snappers are usually safe to swim around (Some expletives are edited out): http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=a81_1273383345&comments=1 One take-away message: do not attempt to save/rescue a snapping turtle that’s been caught in a net unless you are a professional with pliers on hand in case of a bite.
Amidst snapping turtle lore, there is often confusion in associating the alligator snapping turtle with the common snapping turtle but they are not closely related. The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is a large freshwater turtle that lives primarily in southern U.S. waters. It looks like a plated dinosaur and is the sole living member of the Macrochelys genus. Very quickly, it can be identified as an alligator snapping turtle by the three rows of spikes on its carapace, which the common snapper does not have, instead having a smooth carapace. The alligator snapping turtle is endangered, in part due to fishing and the exotic pet trade.
One snapping turtle truism is surrounded in a fog of foul musky odor, which a snapper releases if it is threatened, or about to defend itself, e.g. bite. All turtles in the musk family, most famously—the Stinkpot—give off a foul odor, released from musk glands, when bothered. However, it is a misconception that the safest way to pick up a snapping turtle is by the tail—this can injure the snapper! For a fascinating video that sets the record straight on how to safely move a snapping turtle, see this expert pick up a snapper (“Easy, fella”): “How to Move a Snapping Turtle off the Road” July 2011 (The young man making the film says of snapping turtles, “They’re kind of like shotguns. If you don’t have experience with them, you probably shouldn’t play with them.”)http://neveryetmelted.com/2011/07/16/how-to-move-a-snapping-turtle-off-the-road/And for a funny video of a PA-based “Turtle Derby” see:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrhfhfbZtT4&feature=player_embedded