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Snapping Turtle

Scientific name: Chelydra serpentine

As their appearance suggests, the snapping turtle roamed the earth at the same time as the dinosaur! The upper shell, called the carapace, has a deeply serrated back margin. Their bottom shell (plastron) is quite small, so much of the animals flesh is revealed, compared to other turtles you might see. In fact, it can’t retract its head into its shell. Its long tail, which is covered in bony plates, is also a unique identifier. The snapping turtle has powerful jaws set on a long neck. They can move very fast, so always keep your distance should you come across one. Their hard beak has a rough cutting edge that they use for tearing food.

Snapping turtles rarely leave the water, so if you see one it is very likely that it is a female in search of a nesting place.  They have been known to travel up to 10 miles to reach their traditional nesting place.

Most of their activity is at night, making them nocturnal.

They can grow to be huge. While most are 8-12 inches and 10-35 pounds, long-lived snapping turtles can be larger.  They continue to grow throughout their lives.

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They are omnivorous. About one-third of their diet is plant material; the balance might be insects, fish, frogs, snakes, small turtles, birds and even carrion. Young snapping turtles may forage, where older ones hang motionless in the water and ambush their prey by lunging forward with their head and powerful jaws.


They are almost entirely aquatic, found in fresh water that is slow-moving with a muddy or sandy bottom. They inhabit almost any body of water including marshes, creeks, swamps, lakes and streams.

Life Cycle

Once the female reaches about 8″ in size, she is ready to breed. The nesting season is from April until November. The female may travel a great distance in search of a place to dig a nest and lay eggs. Selected nest sites may be lawns, gardens, road embankments and burrows. One clutch of 20 – 40 eggs is laid in May or June and they emerge in early fall. Instinctively, they head towards water. During this journey they are prey to raccoons, skunks, foxes, birds, dogs and snakes. Once the turtles have grown and their shells harden, they are virtually predator-free, and at the top of the food chain.

Ecosystem Connections

Snapping turtle eggs and hatchlings are a food source for many other animals.

Human Connections

It is the official reptile of the state of New York!

Fun Facts

The gender of the turtle is determined by how warm the eggs are during the incubation period. Warmer eggs become females.

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