For about two years, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln could claim it was home to the world’s largest known common snapping turtle, as well as to the largest and oldest urinal west of the Mississippi.
The roughly 80-year-old, 90-pound turtle was staying in a large tank at UNL’s herpetology lab on East Campus, but recently returned to his newly renovated, 600-gallon home at the Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium at the Schramm Park State Recreation Area on April 5.
Dennis Ferraro, a herpetology professor, said the park built an over $5 million outdoor education center in 2017, which included the Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium in Gretna, where Big Snap Daddy resided.
Tony Korth, aquarium director for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said the renovations forced all the animals in the aquarium to be relocated. He said Big Snap Daddy was one of the few animals in the area they kept on display after the aquarium closed for renovations.
“Most of [the other animals] went back into our ponds, but [Big Snap Daddy] is unique and large enough that we wanted to make sure that we kept him on display,” he said.
Big Snap Daddy’s story began when a fisherman accidentally caught the turtle in the Missouri River 25 years ago. At the time, Korth said the turtle was 47 pounds. He said the fisherman then donated Big Snap Daddy to the park.
“Because he was so large, the fisherman donated him to us so that he could be displayed to the public,” he said. “He thought [the turtle] was so special.”
While his home was under renovation, Ferraro said he took Big Snap Daddy in to his temporary home on East Campus. He said his size challenged the lab’s staff, but they rose to the challenge.
“The park would find and bring us 20-pound roadkill deer every month,” he said. “We didn’t have to worry about having enough funds to feed him.”
Korth said Big Snap Daddy will be more visible in his new tank at the aquarium.
“No one could publicly view him [in the East Campus tank],” he said. “Now, he’s in an aquarium with a piece of glass where the public can view him from the front.”
Ferraro said common snapping turtles are used for their meat, which is why the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission was willing to take in the turtle when the fisherman donated it.
“The Missouri River is where most people hunt for them,” he said. “If they were found by someone who were hunting for them, they most likely would’ve been killed.”
Korth said apart from the turtle’s size, his enduringly terrible personality makes him special.
“We’ve kept him on display for so long, and he’s just as nasty as he was the day we got him,” he said. “He still would bite your finger if you got it too close to his face, which is a good thing because it’s the way they survive.”
Korth said Big Snap Daddy is one of the park’s main attractions.
“He unusually big,” he said. “He’s like a dinosaur.”