Chelydra serpentinaCommon Snapping Turtle

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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.

Habitat

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

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

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.

  • Range mass
    4.0 to 16.0 kg
    8.81 to 35.24 lb
  • Range length
    20.0 to 45.0 cm
    7.87 to 17.72 in

Lifespan/Longevity

In the wild snapping turtles are estimated to live up to 30 years. Snapping turtles are most vulnerable as hatchlings. Once they reach a certain size there are few natural predators of snapping turtles, though they are often hit by cars when searching for new ponds or nesting sites. In captivity they can live up to 47 years.

Behavior

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 sometimes bury themselves in mud with only their nostrils and eyes exposed. This burying behavior is used as a means of ambushing prey.

Communication and Perception

Snapping turtles communicate to mates with leg movements while the turtles face each other. Snapping turtles also use their sense of smell, vision, and touch to detect prey. They may sense vibrations in the water.

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.

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • algae

Predation

The eggs and hatchlings of snapping turtles may be eaten by other large turtles, great blue herons, crows, raccoons, skunks, foxes, bullfrogs, water snakes, and large predatory fish, such as largemouth bass. However, once snapping turtles become larger, there are few animals that prey on them. Snapping turtles are highly aggressive and will fight back ferociously.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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.

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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.

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

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.

Contributors

Adam T. Bosch (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

freshwater

mainly lives in water that is not salty.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

sperm-storing

mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Carr, A. 1952. Handbook of Turtles. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca and London.

Conant, R. and Collins, J.T. 1991. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Niering, W.A. The Audobon Society Nature Guides, Wetlands. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York.

Porter, K. R. 1972. Herpetology. W.B. Saunders Company, Philidelphia.

Whitfield, Dr. P. editor. 1984. Macmillan Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York.