Snapping Turtle

Published on February 18, 2013 by Amy

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Snapping Turtle
Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles are freshwater turtles that live in the Americas. There are three species: the Alligator, Common, and Florida Snapping Turtles. The Alligator snapping turtle is the largest of the North American freshwater turtles. These turtles reach 50 or more pounds, although the average-sized adult weighs 20-30 lbs.

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Snapping Turtles have large heads which cannot be withdrawn into the small shell. They rely on their strong jaws for defense and can bite hard if disturbed. They live in stagnant ponds, swamps and slow-running rivers. Since the Alligator Snapping Turtle lives mainly on fish, it is slaughtered by fishermen and is now on the endangered list.

Common Snapping Turtles can sniff out carrion (dead animals), which they add to their diet of plants, small birds and fish. They are so fearless and aggressive that on occasion, they have been known to attack swimmers. Because of their unique ability to detect dead and rotting flesh, Common Snapping Turtles have been used to help police search for human corpses!

If the common snapping turtle is pestered while on land, it will repeatedly try to bite. Its neck is extremely long, and it can snap or bite as quickly as lightning strikes. Indeed, even a small snapper can inflict a painful wound with its hooked beak. If handled, which is definitely not recommended, be very careful. Pick it up by its tail and keep the belly side of the shell facing toward your body, because a well placed bite -from the common snapping turtle can sever a few fingers at one time.

Geographic Range:
The snapping turtle’s range stretches from S. Alberta and east to Nova Scotia in the north, extending south all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and into central Texas.

Physical Characteristics

The common snapping turtle averages 8-12 inches long and 10-35 pounds.

The snapping turtle normally has a shell length ranging from 8 -18 1/2″and has a tail nearly as long as the shell. The tail has saw-toothed keels on it. The shell ranges in color from dark brown to tan and can even be black in some individuals. Snapping turtles have characteristic tubercles on their necks and legs. Plastrons of snapping turtles are very small and leave much of the extremities exposed. Snapping turtle necks, legs, and tails have a yellowish color and the head is dark in color.

Natural History:

Food Habits
Snapping turtles will eat nearly anything that they can get their jaws around. They feed on carrion, invertebrates, fish, birds, small mammals, amphibians, and a surprisingly large amount of aquatic vegetation. Snapping turtles kill other turtles by decapitation. This behavior might be territoriality towards other turtles or a very inefficient feeding behavior.

Mating takes place from April to November. In the mating process, the male positions himself on top of the female’s shell by grasping the shell with his claws. He then curves his tail until his vent contacts the female’s vent. Fertilization takes place at this time. After the eggs have developed sufficiently in the female, she excavates a hole, normally in sandy soil, and lays as many as 83 eggs. The eggs take 9-18 weeks to hatch depending on the weather. Interestingly, female snapping turtles sometimes store sperm for several years. Sperm storage allows individuals to mate at any time of the year independent of female ovulation, and it also allows females to lay eggs every season without needing to mate.

Snapping turtles are not social creatures. Social interactions are limited to aggressive interactions between individuals, usually males. Many individuals can be found within a small range; snapping turtle density is normally related to the amount of available food. Snapping turtles can be very vicious when removed from the water, but they become docile when placed back into the water. Snapping turtles like to bury themselves in mud with only their nostrils and eyes exposed. This burying behavior is used as a means of ambushing prey. Snapping turtles have a small growth on the front of their tongues that resembles a wriggling worm. To capture fish, the snapping turtle opens its mouth to make the “worm” visible. When a fish comes to investigate the lure, the snapping turtle grabs it with its strong jaws.

Snapping turtles only live in fresh or brackish water. They prefer water bodies with muddy bottoms and abundant vegetation because concealment is easier.

Biomes: freshwater lake, freshwater rivers

Snapping turtle populations are not close to extinction or even threatened. Habitat destruction could pose a danger to snapping turtle populations at a later time. Some individuals are killed for food which does impact the population, but in a very minor way.

Economic Benefits for Humans:
Snapping turtles are used by many people in turtle stews and soups. Snapping turtle shells were used in many ceremonies among Native Americans. The shells were dried and mounted on handles with corn kernels inside for use as rattles.

Snapping turtles consume the young of some game fish. The impact of snapping turtles on these populations is minimal. Snapping turtles are known to kill young and adult ducks and geese, but once again the effects are minimal.

Source: turtletrack Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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