Marty Claussen was relieved when an expert visited his home just outside of Oakford, Ill., to confirm that he wasn’t crazy. In the garage, in a big metal tub partially filled with water, is a snapping turtle Claussen picked up off an area road. What Claussen picked up was a nearly all-white snapping turtle — not an albino with pink eyes, but what those in the science trade call leucistic.
Marty Claussen was relieved when an expert visited his home just outside of Oakford, Ill., to confirm that he wasn’t crazy.
“I felt better after he came down,” Claussen says of a visit by Illinois Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Bob Bluett. “Then I knew I wasn’t seeing things.”
In the garage, in a big metal tub partially filled with water, is a snapping turtle Claussen picked up off the road north of Petersburg.
“I thought it looked kind of odd,” he says.
It certainly was odd — and also quite rare.
What Claussen picked up was a nearly all-white snapping turtle — not an albino with pink eyes, but what those in the science trade call leucistic.
Leucism means the animal lacks all types of skin pigmentation, not just melanin as in true albinos. The animal may be all or partially white — known as piebald.
He says the turtle’s shell and skin color “definitely are not the natural color.”
The shell should be shades of brown, olive, gray or black.
Bluett says an Internet search turned up a leucistic snapping turtle selling for $550. Generally, a snapping turtle raised in captivity is worth about $15.
“Now, if you had a leucistic adult alligator snapping turtle, that would be worth about $5,500,” he says with a laugh.
Alligator snapping turtles are thought to have disappeared from Illinois, and efforts are under way to reintroduce them starting in southern Illinois. Since Claussen’s snapper was not acquired from captivity, he can’t legally profit from it.
“It is against the law to take it from the wild and sell it,” says Bluett. Only turtles raised in captivity can be sold, and specific regulations apply.
Claussen says he doesn’t know just yet what he’ll do with his unusual find.
“It’s quite rare,” says Bluett. “Let’s put it this way; it’s certainly not something you’d expect to see in a lifetime.”
Snapping turtles are large turtles that can be “menacing and aggressive” on land, but are pussycats in the water.
According to the “Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Illinois” by Christopher Phillips, Edward Moll and Ronald Brandon, the snapping turtle is more “retiring” when in the water and usually retreats when approached by people, and “thus, it is little threat to swimmers.”
The Illinois Natural History Survey publishes the field guide.
Even though people heavily exploit snapping turtles for food, populations are not threatened at this time.
Common snapping turtle
- Length: Up to 20 inches
- Characteristics: Long neck and long tail. The tail has “sawtooth projections” on the top. The projections look like the plates on a stegosaurus.
- Habitat: Almost anywhere there are shallow, mud-bottomed bodies of water such as backwaters or ponds.
- Similar species: Alligator snapping turtle. Thought to be gone from Illinois, but the focus of reintroduction efforts.
Source: Illinois Natural History Survey
Chris Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 788-1528.