by James Rada, Jr.
It’s hard to believe that Edmund, a common snapping turtle at the Cunningham Falls Aviary, was the size of a quarter when he first came to Cunningham Falls.
“He was found in a sand trap on a golf course in Frederick County,” said Park Superintendent Mark Spurrier.
He believes that the little turtle’s mother must have come from a nearby water hazard and laid her eggs in the trap. Snapping turtles typically lay 20-30 eggs, but Edmond was the only one left in the sand trap. He was brought to the park and left there about 20 years ago.
Rangers and naturalists named him after Maryland’s first park ranger, Edmund Prince. They cared for him, and he grew… and grew… and grew… and grew some more. Today, he weighs in at 85 pounds and has a shell that is nearly two feet long. He is one of the largest common snapping turtles known. He is still growing, too. He hasn’t even reached middle age.
Edmund now has an outdoor warm-weather enclosure that’s the size of a baby swimming pool. He swims under the water, poking his head up to watch the attention he draws from visitors to the Manor Area Visitor’s Center. When he wants to warm up, he has a platform he can lumber onto and sun himself.
“A lot of people like him, and a lot of people watch him, especially at feeding time,” Spurrier said.
When the outdoor enclosure is cleaned, Edmund is carried out to the grass. This can be quite the workout for the ranger who has to lift the snapping turtle by his shell, while keeping their hands out of reach of Edmund’s mouth to carry the gargantuan turtle to the grass. Edmund is used to it. He waits patiently until he is set down, and then he lumbers across the grass.
When the weather turns cold, Edmund is moved into the aviary, where he can spend the winter in warmth.
Common snapping turtles are known to be combative when out of the water. They will snap with their powerful jaws if something comes too close, and they have long necks that reach further than you would probably expect. However, Edmund is laid back and used to being around people. This is not to say he won’t snap, but he is not as aggressive as he probably would be in the wild.
However, Edmund can no longer survive in the wild. His size keeps him from moving as quickly as a wild snapping turtle does, so he would have trouble catching food. He also has no fear of humans and has no territory. For now, he is healthy and well fed and, hopefully, happy.
If you want to see Edmund, you can visit the aviary, daily, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. When Edmund is in his outdoor enclosure, which is usually from around Memorial Day to Labor Day, you can visit him when Cunningham Falls State Park is open, from 8:00 a.m. to sunset.
At 85 pounds, Edmund is one of the largest known common snapping turtles in the United States. His shell is about 22 inches long.
Cunningham Falls State Park Superintendent Mark Spurrier carries Edmund, the snapping turtle, out of the aviary for a little exercise in the grass.