Herp update: July 2 – Swimming with snapping turtles
I occasionally receive communications from people nervous about swimming in a pond, lake, or river that has Snapping Turtles in it. I try to reassure them that swimming with snappers is both safe and common. My standard line is that anyone swimming in Vermont in anything other than a swimming pool has been swimming with Snapping Turtles and no one has ever reported to me being bitten by a Snapping Turtle while swimming.
If you have ever looked down the throat of a large Northern Pike (fish) and seen their huge mouth and many rows of long sharp teeth, you may not want to ever swim in a pond or lake with Northern Pike, but likewise, most people do and I have never had anyone report being attacked by a Northern Pike while swimming.
Both Snapping Turtles and Northern Pike (and Bullhead and Pumpkinseeds) will try to get away from you when you are swimming in the water. I will say that both Northern Pike and Snapping Turtles will occasionally bite at things that look like frogs or fish.
So, if you really want to maximize your chances of being bit by either, keep your body out of sight, but dangle only your fingers or toes in shallow, muddy, water, near underwater or emergent vegetation. If you do that often enough, you may get a Northern Pike or a Snapping Turtle to bite. But go wading or swimming in the water and they will be headed in the other direction if you get too close. To illustrate the point, HerpAtlas herpetologist Matt Gorton recently took a video of a bathing beauty (don’t be too disappointed) in a swamp with Snapping Turtles.