If you’re wading along and a giant alligator snapping turtle suddenly latches onto your toe, be gentle with it.

It’s a protected species.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has launched an alligator snapping turtle restoration program. It has stocked the pugnacious reptiles in some West Tennessee waters, and asks the public not to harass them.

It’s not clear if the TWRA also asks the alligator snappers not to harass the public.

The alligator snapper is native to Tennessee, but gradually become so scarce that it was endangered.

Two questions come to mind:

First: Why is the Agency devoting time and resources to restore a surly, aggressive critter that can weigh over 30 pounds, with jaws powerful enough to snap a broom handle in half?

Second: How do you get one to turn loose of your toe?

The answer to the first question is simple: the TWRA, which invests heavily in the management of non-game wildlife, believes all native species deserve their niche in nature, not just the cute and cuddly.

If being cranky were grounds for extinction, I suspect a lot of us would be endangered.

As for the second question – turtle removal — it’s not so simple. According to an old wives tale, if a turtle latches onto your toe or other sensitive appendage, it won’t let go until it hears thunder.

I always wondered how old wives knew. Did they come across someone with a turtle on their toe and waited till a thunderstorm blew up to see what happened?

Besides, if a big alligator snapper snapped your toe, it would be a moot point. You wouldn’t have a toe.

A common snapping turtle is ornery enough. As kids we caught them while fishing in farm ponds, and they lived up to their name, snapping at anything that messed with them.

While alligator snappers are protected, their more common cousins, snapping turtles (aka, mud turtles) can be legally harvested. A fishing license is required, with a five-turtle daily limit and a 12-inch size limit.

A turtle is measured from one tip of the shell the other. When measuring, watch out for your fingers. A turtle can extend its neck halfway around its shell.

Some consider turtles a delicacy. Turtle soup is served at fancy restaurants, and the meat is said to taste like chicken. Maybe, but I’ve never seen a Kentucky Fried Turtle restaurant.

I once tried to clean a turtle. It had been decapitated after being caught, and I was trying to separate the top shell from the bottom shell when my headless turtle walked away.

That’s as far as I got. I’m not squeamish, but I have my limits.

Mud turtles prey on baby ducklings and other water birds, and alligator snappers are even more voracious. If they have any redeeming social values, I’m not aware of found them.

But I don’t begrudge turtles their place on the planet, as long as they stay away from my toes.

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