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What is the Common Snapping Turtle?

Marjorie McAtee
By Marjorie McAtee
Updated May 17, 2024
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The common snapping turtle is an aquatic species of reptile indigenous to North America, Central America, and some parts of northern South America. This species can reach an adult weight of 33 pounds (15 kg), and an adult length of 19.5 inches (50 cm). The common snapping turtle is largely carnivorous, and preys mostly upon frogs and fish, though aquatic plants, birds, and small animals have been known to form part of its diet. These turtles are mostly nocturnal, and capable of hibernating in the mud for long periods, especially during the winter. They typically mate in the spring, and females of the species usually lay eggs in late spring or early summer that hatch in early autumn.

The species of turtle known as the common snapping turtle may be one of the most common North American turtles, though they can generally be found inhabiting regions as far south as Ecuador. These turtles typically have a very strong, powerful jaw, and a sharp, hooked beak. They often have large claws. The carapace or upper shell of the common snapping turtle is usually brown or olive green, without additional markings. The common snapping turtle's underside is usually pale and yellowish in hue.

These omnivorous turtles usually feed upon small fish, amphibians, and aquatic plants. They may also hunt small animals and birds, and have been known to scavenge drowned animals and dead fish. They generally prefer to inhabit small ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers unaffected by strong water currents. They typically prefer to inhabit bodies of water with soft, muddy bottoms, since they usually hunt by partially burying themselves beneath the surface of the mud. They may also pass the winter months hibernating beneath the mud.

The common snapping turtle usually mates in the first weeks of spring, and the females may travel up to six miles (10 km) to reach nesting grounds in late spring and early summer. The females usually bury their round, white eggs beneath the mud. The young turtles normally hatch about 90 days later, and make their way to a suitable habitat.

These turtles are generally very agile in the water, and most young specimens are quite agile on land. They typically hunt in a snake-like manner, lashing out quickly with their powerful jaws. They are considered capable of inflicting serious bite wounds, even to humans and large animals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the typical size and weight of a Common Snapping Turtle?

The Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is a large freshwater turtle that typically weighs between 10 to 35 pounds (4.5 to 16 kg). They can reach a shell length of 8 to 18.5 inches (20 to 47 cm), with males generally being larger than females. Their size makes them one of the heftiest freshwater turtles in their range.

Where can you find Common Snapping Turtles in the wild?

Common Snapping Turtles are native to North America and can be found from southeastern Canada, throughout the United States, and down into Central America. They inhabit a variety of freshwater environments, including rivers, lakes, swamps, and ponds. They prefer bodies of water with muddy bottoms and abundant vegetation.

What do Common Snapping Turtles eat?

Common Snapping Turtles are omnivores with a diet that includes both plant and animal matter. They consume fish, frogs, snakes, small mammals, birds, and a variety of aquatic plants. Their opportunistic feeding habits contribute to their role as important ecological components in controlling populations of certain prey species.

How long do Common Snapping Turtles live?

Common Snapping Turtles have a long lifespan, with individuals capable of living up to 30 years in the wild. In captivity, under optimal conditions, they can live even longer, with some reports of turtles reaching over 40 years of age. Their longevity is remarkable among reptiles.

Are Common Snapping Turtles dangerous to humans?

While Common Snapping Turtles can be aggressive if threatened or provoked, they generally avoid human interaction. They have powerful jaws and a strong bite, which they may use defensively if they feel cornered or handled. It's advisable to admire them from a distance and not attempt to touch or pick them up.

What is the conservation status of the Common Snapping Turtle?

The Common Snapping Turtle is currently listed as "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), indicating that it is not at immediate risk of extinction. However, habitat destruction, pollution, and overharvesting for meat and the pet trade can pose threats to local populations, necessitating ongoing monitoring and conservation efforts.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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