Snapping turtle

In Saturday’s edition, we related how at least a couple of timber rattlesnakes had somewhat unsettled a Potter County community this past week.

Forty years ago today, a different reptile was raising alarm in Cattaraugus County — the snapping turtle.

The concern, as related by Dr. Leo Moss, Cattaraugus County health commissioner, was that residents were eating snapping turtles, as their meat were found to be carrying unhealthy toxins.

“Dr. Moss cited a three-year study by the (New York state) Department of Environmental Conservation indicating snapping turtles throughout the state contain unacceptable levels of cancer-linked PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other toxic substances, including pesticides,” the Times Herald reported in its Aug. 17, 1979 edition.

Moss noted that, because of their long lifespans and omnivorous diet, snapping turtles could be carrying highly concentrated levels of PCBs and other toxicants. He essentially warned against eating any part of a snapping turtle.

Of course, today, as our waterways and soils have been better protected over the years, PCB and other toxicity warnings have lessened compared to the late-1970s. Nevertheless, the Times Herald noted then that the Bureau of Environmental Protection of the DEC had reported fish taken in the Allegheny River had PCB levels of less than 0.4 parts per million, making them safe to put on the dinner table.

However, Moss pointed out, again, that snapping turtles should be avoided, adding they could also be carriers of disease-causing salmonella bacteria.

So was snapping turtle hunting and eating a thing for the perhaps more adventurous among Cattaraugus County’s residents?

“Dr. Moss added probably few people in the county eat foods made from snapping turtles, and then only occasionally, but those who do should be warned of the dangers,” the Times Herald reported.

Today, snapping turtles remain quite plentiful — New York’s official state reptile, they are seen along creeks, in ponds, wetlands and the river. It’s not unusual during the spring mating season to see them running the gauntlet to cross Interstate 86 in the Birch Run wetlands area.

And there is indeed a hunting season in New York — July 15-Sept. 30 — for snapping turtles. The DEC still warns to carefully trim and discard all fat, liver and eggs prior to cooking to reduce exposure to contaminants.

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is