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Snapping turtle

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Snapping turtle
Snapping Turtle in Murky Water.jpg
Scientific Classification
  • Chelydra
  • Macrochelys [2]
Angry Snapping Turtle.jpg
This angered snapping turtle opens its mouth to bite.

Snapping turtles are any of the species of turtles belonging to the taxonomic family Chelydridae. It consists of two living genera and many others that have gone extinct. These extinct genera include the Chelydrops, Hoplochelys, Gafsachelys, Chelydropsis, and Archerontemys. There are only two genera that survive today and those are the Macrochelys and Chelydra. The Macrochelys has only one species, which is the Macrochelys teminnckii. It is also known as the alligator snapping turtle, and is currently considered “endangered”, but has yet to actually be confirmed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. The Chelydra has one species as well, the Chelydra serpentine, also known as the common snapping turtle, which has two subspecies. These subspecies include the Chelydra acutisostris, or South American snapping turtle, and the Chelydra rossignonii, or Central American snapping turtle. [2]

Body Design

An Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) has a dinosaur-like appearance and a spiky shell.
Unlike the alligator snapping turtle, the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentine) has a smooth shell and a rounded head.

Chelydridae, or Snapping turtles, are omnivorous reptiles covered with scales. They tend to be brown, tan, or black in color. Two of the Snapping turtle’s special features include its legs and jaw. Its jaw is very strong and gives a mean bite, thus receiving its name. Its four legs are sturdy and powerful as well. At the end of each leg it has monstrous claws used for defense, tearing meat apart, and climbing rugged, hilly terrain where it lays its eggs. They also have webbed feet which make them excellent swimmers. [3] Snapping turtles are also ectothermic, meaning the temperature of their environment affects their body’s state and temperature. For instance, when the temperature drops, the Snapping turtle becomes less active and lazy. Often they will float along the surface of the water allowing the sun’s heat to warm them up. [4]

Another unique fact about the Snapping turtle is that it never stops growing. As a Snapping turtle grows, its shell can become very large and the turtle can become very heavy. Their average weight can range from 35-300 pounds, but the record weight was around 600 pounds! The common snapping turtle generally grows between 18.5-31 inches long, but the alligator snapping turtles often grow larger. Even with its size, the Snapping turtle’s average speed is around 2.4 mph.

Alligator snapping turtles and common snapping turtles are relatively easy to distinguish from one another due to their unique physical differences. As mentioned previously, the alligator snapping turtle is larger than the common snapping turtle. However, this is not their only difference. The long head and spiky, dinosaur-like shell of the alligator snapping turtle distinguishes it from the common snapping turtle’s smooth shell and rounded head. [5]

Life Cycle

The Snapping turtles are very small and vulnerable to predators when they first hatch from their eggs.

In the wild, Snapping turtles tend to live from 20 to 50 years on average, but those in captivity have been known to live longer. Some researchers even speculate that Snapping turtles could live to be 150 years old. [5] The life of a Snapping turtle begins when they hatch from their egg. Snapping turtle eggs are buried in mud or sand and develop over a period of 9 to 18 weeks. The temperature during the Snapping turtle’s incubation determines its gender. If the weather is warm, being from 72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, the turtle is a male; any other temperature results in a female. These eggs regularly hatch in the fall, but sometimes they hatch in the spring depending on when mating occurred.

Mating usually occurs between April and November, but a female Snapping turtle has the ability to store sperm in her for years, thus allowing mating to be year round as well as annual. Male Snapping turtles tend to begin mating between the ages of 3 and 5, whereas the female begins between the ages of 4 and 6, taking longer to develop. Snapping turtles mate in the water, with their eggs later being laid on land. The female Snapping turtle has been known to carry the eggs up to 10 miles away from where the mating took place in order to find a suitable place to lay them. Females have the ability to lay up to 80 eggs at a time, but more commonly lay around 20 to 30. After the female buries the eggs, she leaves them and does not return. When the Snapping turtles are young, they are extremely vulnerable and many of them are eaten by predators such as snakes, large birds, and raccoons. [4]


Snapping turtles live in muddy freshwater areas. This turtle is quite happy in his muddy home.
Snapping turtles live in North, Central, and South American regions where the climate is warm and comfortable for them.

Snapping turtles are native to North, Central and parts of South America. They live most of their lives in water, with the exception of when they lay their eggs or are basking (when a turtle lies out in the sun, sometimes on a log, to warm up). The Snapping turtles habits freshwater, but can also withstand living in brackish and salt water for a period of time; they can even live in sewer systems and other polluted waters. The turtles prefer to live in areas that are shaded or covered, and tend to live on the soft, muddy bottom of rivers and/or lakes. In general, the Snapping turtle just likes to find a place that is soft and comfortable. This can included places with water lilies, organic debris, and thick vegetation. Despite the Snapping turtle’s apparent pickiness in habitat, it is capable of living in many bodies of water. In fact, Snapping turtles can be found in a variety of places including salt marshes, ponds, marshes, lakes, swamps, ditches, and even puddles. Their only requirements are that the water is deep enough for the turtle to hide and hibernate in, but shallow enough that it can be sitting on the bottom and reach the surface to breathe (up to about 3 feet in depth). Especially for small juvenile turtles, who are poor swimmers, they must be able to reach the surface to breathe otherwise they can drown.

Though the Snapping turtle is omnivorous, about 65% of its diet is vegetation, making it primarily herbivorous. However in the springtime when vegetation is more sparse, it also eats a variety of meat including non-game, slow-moving fish. Its diet also includes things like frogs and other amphibians, carrion, crustaceans, and mollusks. On other occasions, the Snapping turtle has been known to eat some waterfowl, and though extremely rare, some small mammals and birds. The Snapping turtle is not the greatest hunter as it is rather slow and lazy. Often times the Snapping turtle waits for its prey to swim by slowly and then the turtle will stalk it slowly before snapping its hook-like mouth onto its prey. [6]

Threatened Creatures

Many Snapping turtles are killed each year trying to cross roads.
If one comes across a Snapping turtle trying to cross a road, the best thing to do is to pick it up by the back of its carapace (shell) and carry it across the road to where is was headed.

There are multiple reasons why the Snapping turtle is considered a threatened species. For one, Snapping turtles are often harvested for their meat. Each year, thousands of Snapping turtles are trapped, slaughtered, and eaten. Since marine turtles and terrapin turtles have recently become protected, this has increased the demand for Snapping turtle meat. Another factor that contributes to their threatened status is their reproductive rates and lifespan. Because the Snapping turtle can live so long, but can only reproduce for a certain portion of its life, there are many more adult turtles than juveniles; the number of juveniles cannot replace the number of adults quick enough. Sadly, the trapping of Snapping turtles often removes the largest and most reproductive turtles, and thus hinders the population growth even further.

With the increase in number of highways and cars, the Snapping turtle population has been severely diminished by road kills. Since the Snapping turtle is not a fast mover and it grows to be rather large, it is an easier target for cars to hit. Snapping turtles will sometimes build their nests near roads, and this causes problems for the innocent and unknowing adolescent turtles that cross into the busy roads and are squished be cars as they zoom by. The nests closest to roads and in gravel pits are also destroyed by vehicles and road grading. The fact that these nests are so close to roads also means that nesting females will be there as well, thus making them unsuspecting targets to cars as well. Sadly, there are many people who do not like Snapping turtles and who hit the turtles deliberately because they want the turtles gone. Regrettably, their plan is working. Though it is true that the Snapping turtle can harm humans, it tends to stay away unless threatened. Ironically, they are now threatened and on the brink of being endangered unless drastic action is taken to save them. [6]


Here are some common facts and information regarding the Snapping turtle.



  1. Snapping Turtle a-z-animals. Web. Accessed February 20, 2013 Author Unknown
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jameson, Claire. Classification-of-Snapping-Turtles E-How. Web. Date-of-last-update or access 2013.
  3. Common-Snapping-Turtle Answers-in-Genesis. Web. Date-of-publication March 26, 2010.Author Unknown.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Urbauer, Thomas. Life-Cycle-of-a-Snapping-Turtle e-How. Web. Accessed February 20, 2013.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Snapping Turtle a-z-animals. Web. Accessed February 20, 2013 Author Unknown.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kynast, Susannne. Snapping-Turtles Tortoise-Trust. Web. Access February 20, 2013.