Lower-48 turtle shows up in Homer

Non-native snapper could grow to 200 pounds and become aggressive predator

Posted: Monday, September 09, 2002

ANCHORAGE - An alligator snapping turtle found in a pond near Homer will die if it's not adopted as a pet, according to state wildlife officials.

A dog owned by Jack and Nancy Allen last week rooted out the 5-inch-wide turtle that had been wallowing in mud alongside the private, human-made pond on the Allens' property. The reptile is native to the southeast United States and usually feeds on crayfish.

Turtles are not native to Alaska, meaning this one will have to be killed unless the Department of Fish and Game allows the Allens to keep it as a pet, said Gino Del Frate, a state wildlife biologist.

The Allens' dog dropped the turtle in the middle of their driveway.

"It was traumatized," Nancy Allen said. She took the turtle indoors, put it in an aquarium and searched the Internet for clues about its care and feeding.

The turtle may have been bought as a pet and dumped in the pond some time ago, said Coowe Walker, a biologist with the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, based in Homer. The reptiles sell for $10 as juveniles about the size of a quarter.

The Allens moved to the property a year ago. Nancy Allen is a friend of Walker and called her as soon as she saw the turtle. Walker passed the information on to state biologists.

Del Frate, accustomed to dealing with bears, mountain goats and moose, searched the pond to make sure there were no more reptiles.

"This is a first," he said. "I've never had to deal with alligator snapping turtles before."

After using a couple of hard-shell clam rakes to poke around the outside of the pond Friday, Del Frate found no more turtles.

Walker grew up in Maryland, where she caught and raised native snapping turtles. Considering the reptiles can withstand Minnesota winters, she saw no reason one could not survive indefinitely in Homer.

That could be a problem. The turtles have a voracious appetite, she said, and are capable of growing to more than 2 feet and weighing 200 pounds. They are the largest of all freshwater turtles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"They're an extremely aggressive predator. They'll eat young ducks. They'll suck 'em right down under the water," Walker said.

When the Allens mentioned it was odd that they'd never seen any frogs there, Walker said, "I thought 'Aha, that might be why.' They wouldn't be eating baby birds at that size, but certainly frogs, tadpoles and fish, mice - anything that gets near the edge of the water.

"They can break your finger at that size."

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