Big Snap Daddy spent his first 55 years or so in obscurity, hanging out and living his turtle life in the Missouri River in the state’s southeast corner.
But then about 25 years ago, while waiting for his dinner of dead animals to float by, he made a mistake — snapping down on a hook that was attached to a line that was reeled in by a fisherman on the riverbank near Peru.
“And the fisherman decided he was too big, and he wanted him to be on display for the public to see,” said Tony Korth, Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium director at Schramm State Park. “Even at that time, he was a giant.”
The Eastern common snapping turtle was believed to be about 55 at the time, and weighed about 50 pounds. But after he was moved to a 400-gallon aquarium at the park near Gretna, Big Snap Daddy kept getting bigger.
“We’re not trying to grow him,” Korth said. “He just keeps growing.”
By the time he was moved in 2017 to UNL’s Herpetology Lab — a temporary stay, while the state built him a new, 600-gallon home — he weighed 85 pounds, making him a very uncommon snapping turtle.
“That’s off the charts,” Korth said. “Everything that I could find said 50 pounds was the max, that they don’t get bigger than 50.”
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He’s big enough to qualify as the largest common snapping turtle recorded, said Dennis Ferraro, who teaches herpetology and has spent the past two years taking care of Big Snap Daddy. He grew as heavy as 89 pounds at the university, but then dropped to 81, losing most of it during his recent hibernation.
Big Snap Daddy was on the move again Friday afternoon, leaving East Campus in the back of a minivan and heading home, where he moved into the 600-gallon tank in the renovated aquarium. He’ll go back on display May 18, when the Schramm Education Center reopens after a $6.5 million construction project.
The 80-year-old is expected to settle back into his routine, hanging out under water, waiting for something to eat.
His keepers feed him weekly, a couple of pounds of roadkill deer and dead fish. But they keep their distance. Even in his old age, the turtle is faster than he looks, Korth said.
“He’s probably just as aggressive as he was when we got him. He’ll still bite your finger when he gets a chance.”