Snapping Turtle

Chelydra serpentina


8 - 12", record 18-1/2", 10 - 35 lbs, captive record 86 lbs, wild record 45 lbs. Freshwater "loggerhead", primitive looking, small plastron, long tail, large head. This turtle appears to be too large for its shell. Is this why it is so aggressive? Young have very rough carapace scutes with 3 fairly well defined keels along the back. Keels tend to flatten with age. Tail is as long or longer than the carapace, especially in the young. The top of the tail has a saw toothed crest, diminishing toward the end of the tail. The small plastron is a muted yellow to tan, unpatterned, shaped like a cross, joined to the carapace by a narrow bridge. The carapace is tan to dark brown, often covered with algae. The back six marginal scutes of the carapace are jagged. Head and limbs dark gray above, pinkish gray below. Head is large, with eyes close to the snout. The eyes are toward the top of the head and can be seen from directly above. There are many small tubercles scattered irregularly on the neck and soft underparts. There are a pair of barbels on the chin.


Any permanent body of fresh water. Prefers slow moving water, muddy bottoms, dense aquatic vegetation, overhanging banks. May enter brackish water. A very successful species, ranging from southern Canada to northern Mexico east of the Rocky Mountains.


Hibernates in the mud, emerges when temperatures reach and remain above 60F. Primarily nocturnal, rarely bask, largely aquatic. The shell is often covered with algae since they don't dry out. I have seen one whose head was covered by algae, growing from its skin. Often buries in the mud with eyes and nostrils exposed. Will usually shy away when stepped on in the water. On land they are most aggressive, lunging repeatedly and capable of inflicting a severe bite - treat with respect. If handled at all, they are best handled by the rear of the carapace or by the rear legs, holding well away from one's self. A flat shovel can also be used. Lifting by the tail can dislocate it and seriously harm the turtle. Often emit a powerful defensive musk.

If there is an adequate food supply, snappers are likely to stay put. They will migrate only if necessary. They can survive in any permanent body of water with food.


Males larger than females. Breeds April to November. Peak egg laying in June. Nest 4 to 7" deep. Eggs are round, hard shelled, 4/5 to 1-3/10", 20 to 30 to a clutch. Hatch after 9 to 18 weeks, may overwinter in the egg. Observers have reported a courtship dance where the pair face each other with rear ends elevated and sway from side to side. Mating is often rough, with male biting at female's front legs and head.


Omnivorous, takes aquatic invertebrates, frogs, toads, salamanders, tadpoles, crayfish, crabs, fish, fish eggs, reptiles, birds, mammals, carrion, and aquatic vegetation including algae. Take aquatic rodents, ducklings and other large birds by mounting a submarine attack. May be cannibalistic.

Young are preyed upon by bullfrogs, herons, large fish, hawks. Adults have little to fear save man, although a full grown alligator can take an adult snapper.

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