There is something lurking in the Mill Pond. Something ancient. Something primordial. Something big.
I've only seen it on two occasions. I'm pretty sure it was the same individual. There couldn't be two of these huge creatures in so small a pond. It's hard enough for me to believe that one could grow so large so far north as Mine Falls Park in Nashua, New Hampshire. There couldn't be two. I must have seen the same one twice.
It's a common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). And it's a genuine monster!
Now, I've seen snapping turtles before. There are quite a few of them in Mine Falls Park. Most of them are small for their species, with an overall length of 18 inches or so. A few are of a more typical full-grown size of two and a half feet. (The one pictured at the top of the page is about that size.)
Very minor update, 4/14/2008: The turtles are emerging from hibernation, and I caught a video of a large snapper, not the Monster, in one of the distributary streams that flow out of the Mill Pond. Watch what a typical snapper looks like , and maybe you'll get some feel for the Monster. This one is probably a little larger than typical for Mine Falls Park. I would estimate the carapace length at maybe 13 or 14 inches. Add about 11 or 12 inches for the outstretched neck and head, another ten or so for the tail, and this turtle approaches a yard long, overall. The Monster, by my estimate based on two incomplete views of him, is at least one and a quarter times as long, and at least twice as massive as the turtle in this video.
The Monster is easily in excess of four feet long, with a carapace length well over 18 inches.
I never got a good look at the Monster. Snappers hardly ever come out of the water, and this one is so large that I couldn't see the whole thing in the murky water of the Mill Pond. It might just be a very large snapper within the known range of size for this species (the record is over 20 inches in carapace length and weighing about 75 pounds). But it might be a new record.
The first time I saw it was in the Nashua Canal about a hundred yards north of the beginning of the canal at the Mill Pond.
As it walked along the bottom of the canal, its shell spanning from one bank to the other, it pushed a wall of water before it, leaving the canal behind it high and dry, fish flopping in its enormous footprints ...
What? Oh, sorry. I slipped into "sea story" mode for a moment there.
Seriously, it was big.
It was bobbing on the surface of the canal, and all I could see was its head and the front part of its carapace. The head was as big as a grapefruit. What I saw of the carapace was at least a foot long, and it appeared that I was seeing just beyond the highest arch of the lateral center of the carapace. From that, I estimate a total carapace length of perhaps twenty inches, perhaps more.
The second time I saw it was near the north shore of the Mill Pond about a hundred yards or so west of the canal. I was standing on the little bridge, the more eastern of the two little bridges and dams along the Millpond Trail where distributary streams flow from the pond into the Nashua River.
The Monster was swimming about fifteen feet off the shore from east to west, passing from my left to right. Oddly, he was swimming on his side, at about a 45 degree angle, with his head and the right side of his shell at the surface of the water, and his left side and after end disappearing into the murky water.
(Q: How does an 80-pound snapping turtle swim? A: Any way he wants to!)
The wake of his passage raised a wave that sloshed in the spillway of the dam, cracking the concrete walls of the spillway, throwing spray over the bridge and threatening to smash the dam, ...
What? Oh, sorry. "Sea story" mode again.
Seriously, it was big.
This time, I got a clear view of the Monster's right front foot and part of his plastron. The foot was clearly wider than my hand, and each claw was as long and as thick as my little finger.
I'm not sure what to hope for this Monster. At least, I hope I see him again, and that I have my camera with me when I do.
Part of me hopes that someone will catch him and measure him. This could advance our scientific understanding of what the snapping turtle is capable of. His length, weight, and longevity might challenge the existing records for his species. We could learn how such a huge reptile manages to live in this cold extreme of his species' range where he can only feed for less than five months each year. What does he eat? How does he hibernate? These are interesting questions, and it would be good to know.
But I also hope that he can continue to live in peace in the Mill Pond. My nearby city park is that much more interesting a place because it is home to a genuine Monster.