This oil painting is dedicated to the memory of Ario Gatti (1924 – 1965) who came to Canada from Yugoslavia, joined the staff of the Royal Ontario Museum on July 1, 1957, and loved to do underwater photography, not only in Oceans, but, like me, he was fascinated by what went on under the surface of our freshwater ponds, marshes, lakes and rivers. He was an early mentor of mine from my early teens into very early 20s, who died tragically with a group of academics in a scuba dive tragedy on October 25th, 1965, as they were trying to get one last shipwreck dive in Lake Huron in before the close of the season.
The Common Snapping Turtle is not so common, having gone from being Canada’s only “game” species of turtle, legally hunted, directly to being to a protected species of “special concern” under SARA, the federal Species at Risk Act, after immense lobbying by concerned conservationists and animal protectionists. It’s also listed locally under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. Now every species of turtle native to Ontario is legally acknowledged to be at some level of risk.
While they look fearsome and among the ill-informed have a reputation to match, I’ve never heard of a snapping turtle biting anyone in the water – they flee and hide – and you really have to work very, very hard to be bitten under any circumstances since they hiss and open their mouths and if approached, and may even lurch forward, albeit not far. Just keep out of range of the mouth and they can’t hurt you. They occur throughout temperate North America north into boreal forest regions and west into the central plains. There are two closely related species in the same genus found in Central and South America. Those three species, plus one other, the larger Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) of the U.S. southeast, are the only members of their family, Chelydridae, which therefore is found only in the western hemisphere.
Not reaching sexual maturity until in their teens, snappers have a low reproduction rate. They young are tiny when they hatch out of eggs that the female lays mostly in sand banks, bases of sandy bluffs and so on, and so vulnerable to predation. The eggs are all the more so, very often being dug up and eaten by raccoons, skunks, opossums and other egg-eaters. Upon reaching full size (more than 10 kg., or 22 lbs) they have virtually no natural predators, but they are highly vulnerable to human-caused mortality. Although they are extremely aquatic, and while they may bask, the usually spend most of their lives invisibly underwater, just sticking the nostrils out for a long-lasting breath, the females must come ashore to lay the eggs, and at that time are vulnerable. The embankments created roadbuilders, especially on causeways, can be great nesting sites, and since they move slowly, with many pauses, they are vulnerable to being struck by cars. If you see a snapping turtle on the road, pick up by holding the carapace (upper shell) on either side of the tail (they can’t reach that far back to bite) and move well off the side in the direction the turtle was heading.
The painting is in oils on Russian birch mounted on basswood frame and is approximately 16 X 20 inches.
I’m also including a small oil painting on acrylics of another local wetland species, the Green Frog (Lethobates [Rana] clamitans), native to eastern North America. They are highly variable in pattern, and some, like this female from near my home in Markham, Ontario, can be more brown than green. A few may be mostly blue. They are so aquatic that often they are first detected by sound, their call being a twangy note likened to a plucked banjo string.
This little study is 8” by 10” in oils on an acrylic base on Russian birch.
Barry Kent MacKay
Bird Artist, Illustrator
Studio: (905) 472 9731
31 Colonel Butler Drive
Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada