Every now and then I come across a sound event so bizarre and unusual that I can’t believe my ears. Such was the case in late July of 2005. My friend Josh gave telephoned me and said he had caught a “singing turtle” and wondered if I wanted to record it. I was interested, of course, even though I figured he might be pulling my leg. Several days later, I took my gear to a spring-fed pond on private property not far from Ithaca, New York. A male Snapping Turtle was in a large wire-mesh cage that was mostly submerged at the end of a wooden dock. Two female snappers were keeping him company. I set my soundscape mike on the dock, pointing it toward the top of the cage, which stuck up above the water. I then unraveled about two-hundred feet of cable and sat on the nearby lawn and waited, listening through my headphones.
Within about fifteen minutes, I heard a few gurgles and the sound of dripping water. While I didn’t have a good view of the cage, I suspected that the turtle had swum up and poked his head above the surface. I turned on my recorder. Then I heard a hissy, airy sound, accompanied by a whistling squeak (his inhalation?). What followed was truly a surprise—a series of husky, wavering, melancholy squeals that were surprisingly animated:
Melancholy squeals and inhalations of a male Snapping Turtle given with head above water. 5pm, 28 July 2005, near Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
This is totally outrageous, wouldn’t you agree? But what on earth is going on here? To my knowledge, no biologist has ever described male turtles singing songs. Is this an anomaly? Perhaps the old patriarch has something caught in his throat! Or maybe all male snapping turtles do the same, but nobody has ever caught on to it. Are there any turtle experts out there? If so, then whatya think about this?
My friend Josh thinks it’s the male turtle’s “song,” although he’s not at all sure what it means. Do females respond to these forlorn squeals? Or is he aiming his song at us gullible humans? In other words: is this danged turtle trying to mess with our minds?