Snapping Turtle – 10 Interesting Common Snapping Turtle Facts

10 Interesting Common Snapping Turtle Facts

The common snapping turtle is anything but common. These fascinating reptiles look like miniature dinosaurs. Who wouldn’t want something like that in their own home? They are becoming increasingly popular as pets and when you check out these 10 interesting common snapping turtle facts, you’ll see why.

1. They Like To Take It Easy

Snapping Turtle

We’re not saying that they’re lazy but the common snapping turtle prefers a more sedentary lifestyle. To get their food they will forage first and foremost. They will also hunt by surprise. They’re not into chasing their prey for long periods.

As foragers, their diet can consist of up to 90% dead plant and animal matter. Doesn’t sound too appetizing to us but we should be grateful. Consuming what might be considered waste to another species makes the common snapping turtle nature’s vacuum. We have them to thank for helping to clean up our lakes and wetlands.

Due to the large amounts of time the common snapping turtle spends in water, it’s likely if you come across one in the wild that its shell will be covered in algae. It’s a nice look for them and if they weren’t so sedentary their shells would be bare. This algae also helps to camouflage them when they are going for a surprise hunt in the water.

To sum it up; the common snapping turtle loves the old adage: slow and steady wins the race. Why hunt when you can forage?

2. They Can’t Retreat Into Their Shells

We all know the image of a turtle getting frightened and retreating completely into its shell. Or better yet, the cartoons of the turtle getting scared and running out of its shell completely. To set things straight, no turtle of any species can escape from its shell. The shell is fused to their backbone.

On the other hand, most turtles can retreat into their shells. But we all know there’s exceptions to every rule and the common snapping turtle is the exception. Their bottom shell is too small to have enough space to get all its limbs inside.

Lucky for them, the snapping turtle has another way to protect itself from predators. Can you guess what it is? Obviously, it’s their ability to snap. They fend off predators with their bites. They have a jaw strength of 200-300N of force and a sharp beak made for tearing their prey and their predators if needed. Their bite is not something you want to be on the receiving end of.

It is said that the common snapping turtle evolved away from being able to hide in its shell. They spend most of their time submerged in the shallows of freshwater bodies where predators are limited. The just didn’t need to hide AND snap so they evolved to keep the cooler trait of snapping.

3. Their Sex Is Determined By Temperature

Snapping Turtle

This seems like such a weird statement, doesn’t it? But it’s true. The sex of a common snapping turtle hatchling is determined by the temperature where the mother lays her eggs. They lay their eggs in sandy or gravely areas and a cooler temperature will produce strictly male offspring. A warmer temperature will produce strictly females. The ideal temperature for an even distribution of both male and female hatchlings is 82°F. It must be hard for mom to get that just right!

Female common snapping turtles looking for a perfect nesting site can travel great distances on land. They can store sperm for several years so they can take their time to make sure everything is just right if they need to.

4. They Take Their Time To Grow Up

Snapping Turtle

Do you think that it’s taking your teenager a long time to grow up? Well, it can take the average common snapping turtle 15-20 years to reach maturity. That may not seem that long when you are comparing them to your teenager but to put it in perspective, that’s about half of their lifetime. Although, some say that they can live up to 70 years.

Only about 1% of turtle hatchlings will reach maturity and the common snapping turtle is no exception to this. It’s crazy when you think about – only 1 turtle in 100 will live long enough to be able to have their own offspring. You can see why turtle populations worldwide are in danger.

Another interesting common snapping turtle fact is that their eggs are white and perfectly round. They look like ping pong balls. They lay anywhere from 20-60 eggs in their clutch.

The adult mortality rate will significantly affect the common snapping turtle populations since the hatchling success rate is so low. If they defy all odds and reach maturity but die suddenly due to environmental factors, the entire population is affected. Basically, every mature turtle matters and should contribute back to that 1% through mating.

One of the main factors affecting the survival of the mature turtles is the land journey the females have to take to their nesting sites. They can travel up to 10 miles at a speed of about about 1 mile per day.

It’s dangerous for these expectant common snapping turtle mothers to be on land. They will cross busy roads and be more susceptible to land predators. They may use man-made structures as nesting sites like the gravel at the roadside or dams putting them and their hatchlings at further risk. Their eggs, especially in urban areas, will be vulnerable to predators such as skunks or raccoons.

If you see any turtle on a busy road, and it’s safe to do so, you should stop and help. Usually this help is in the form of a report to the local wildlife group. Leave the relocation to the experts as much as possible. If you have experience, you might also be able to move the turtle yourself although this is not recommended. Think of the impact saving one mature turtle can have on the entire species.

5. They Are Old

Snapping Turtle Adult

The snapping turtle is old. Well, to be more specific, they are ancient. Snapping turtle fossils have been dated back 40 million years. Turtles in general are even more ancient. The oldest primitive turtle that we know of called Odontochelys was on earth 220 million years ago. There’s not many species that can say they are older than dinosaurs.

Since we don’t want them going the way of the dinosaurs, it’s important that we are aware of our encroachment into their habitats and our impact on the state of their habitats from man-made pollution and contaminants.

Not only have snapping turtles been around for what seems like forever when compared with our lifetimes, they live to be quite old too. Their average lifespan in the wild is about 30 years. In captivity it can be even longer. Cases of snapping turtles over 70 years old in captivity have been reported and scientists believe that it is possible for them to live up to 100.

6. They Spend Most Of Their Time Underwater

Snapping Turtle Underwate

Probably the most common circumstance in which you will see a common snapping turtle in the wild is their little nose sticking out of the water. They spend most of their lives (except for the females during the nesting season) in water. They like to bury themselves in the mud on the bottom of their freshwater homes. A perfect hiding spot to catch tonight’s dinner.

Turtles are ectotherms which means that they are cold blooded. They can’t regulate their temperature themselves. They rely on the heat of the sun and the cooling of water to maintain an optimal temperature. The common snapping turtle uses the sun like other turtles but prefers to bask on the water’s surface rather than on land.

They like shallow water so you don’t have to worry about a snapper randomly attacking you while you are swimming. Just be careful when you are entering the water in the shallows.

To further put your mind at ease, the common snapping turtle is generally docile in water. I guess it’s good they like to live in it! Rather than getting into a “confrontation” they will opt to move away silently. They are more aggressive on land where they feel more exposed and vulnerable. If provoked or disturbed on land, you can expect them to try and bite and use their long claws.

Now you can see why on land, if you find a snapping turtle on a busy road, it’s better to call the trained experts to move them. That way you are helping but not risking being bitten or scratched yourself.

7. They Are New York State’s Official Reptile

Official Reptile

Yes, that’s right, the common snapping turtle is famous. In New York state anyway. They must enjoy this recognition because there are large concentrations of them there.

Turtles are found on every continent except Antarctica. But, the common snapping turtles are a little more localized than that. They are found in Canada from Alberta to Nova Scotia and in the United States from Kansas to Connecticut to Florida. They are also found in Mexico and as far south as Ecuador.

They tend towards these locations due to the higher concentrations of their preferred habitats. They thrive in freshwater in the form of lakes, rivers, ponds, bogs and marshes.

You may be surprised to learn that many of the areas where they live experience very cold temperatures in the winter. When it’s too cold for them, the common snapping turtle will hibernate. They slow their metabolic rate way down and wait for the weather to warm. Many people have reported seeing “dead” turtles in the water under the ice of a frozen lake. Chances are, the snapping turtle isn’t dead. He’s just hibernating in the warmer water.

8. They Can Be Hunted

Be Hunted

The common snapping turtle is not an endangered species but depending on the area, it may be considered an at risk species. The bottom line is that depending on where you are, you may be able to either hunt or capture wild snapping turtles.

One of the main purposes for hunting the common snapping turtle is for their meat. I can’t image it’s for the thrill of the chase. Their meat is used in turtle soup. A word of caution though if you are planning to hunt turtles and consume their meat. The snapping turtle’s skin accumulates concentrations of chemical toxins, including PCBs which will be ingested if they are eaten.

They are also trapped for the growing pet trade. While this may sound better than hunting and killing the turtles, it can still drastically affect their numbers if not done responsibly. There are varying degrees of regulation and legislation in both the US and Canada to attempt to manage the exploitation of the common snapping turtle. Capture from the wild is prohibited in Michigan and New York but in other states such as Alabama, Maryland and Texas, wild capture is unregulated.

To be safe, there are snapping turtle farms where you can legally purchase a pet turtle as long as the farm is compliant.

If you are interested in a turtle hunt or capture then you should check with your local authorities who may or may not allow it. They will likely impose bag limits, seasonal bans and age sex and size bans. For example, in the Ontario, Canada, hunting snapping turtles has been completely prohibited.

9. They Should Never Be Picked Up By The Tail

Snapping Turtle tail

Simply put, whether you are handling a snapping turtle at home as a pet or to relocate it to safety in the wild, you should NEVER pick them up by their tail.

In the rare cases where someone might get bitten by a common snapping turtle, your instinct may be to pull it off you by the tail. Especially because their tails are longer than their bodies, it may seem like an easy solution. This is wrong. It will make the bite worse as the turtle will grip harder and pulling or gripping by the tail will also hurt the turtle.

The common snapping turtle’s tail is attached to its spine so picking them up by their tails or pulling on their tails will cause irreversible damage to their vertebrae. Additionally, you leave yourself wide open to the turtle turning around and either biting you or scratching you.

The proper way to pick up a common snapping turtle is to approach them from behind and grab hold of its shell at the back on either side of the tail. Make sure you have a firm grip and that your hands are behind its back legs. They have flexible necks so if your hands are too far up the body, it can turn its neck and bite you.

Keep the snapping turtle as low to the ground and as far away from your body as possible while moving it. The turtle will feel safer closer to the ground and accidentally dropping it will cause less damage to the them. You want to keep it as far from you as possible due to the biting risk.

When you are releasing your grip on the turtle when it’s in its safe spot, place it gently on the ground and let go. Once you release it, move away backwards (away from the turtle) as quickly as possible. Leave it alone to recover from the stress and be on its way.

If you are moving a turtle off a busy road to safety then always move it in the same distance it was already traveling. If you move it against the way it was traveling, it will just cross the road again and be in danger again.

10. They Get Cataracts

Snapping Turtle eyes


A wild, freshwater common snapping turtle was reported to the Toronto Wildlife Center in Toronto after some good samaritans found him near the gate of a parking garage. He hadn’t moved in 3 days and was in need of help.

The Toronto wildlife Center came to the rescue and after evaluating the turtle’s condition determined he had dead tissue on his tail, lesions on his legs, was missing one eye and had a cataract on the other eye. Suffice it to say, he was in bad shape. They called him “Darth Vader”.

They cleaned him up and knew that due to the cataract on his remaining eye he was likely completely blind. The only way to get him well enough to go back into the wild was to attempt a cataract surgery. This had never been done on a wild, freshwater snapping turtle before.

This happened in 2009 and after a successful surgery and rehabilitation, Darth Vader was released back into the wild in the Humber West Park in May of 2010. Things worked out well for him in the end.

Well, there you have it – 10 interesting common snapping turtle facts. Common snapping turtles are an essential part of many ecosystems, generally docile unlike their name suggests and can be wonderful long-term pets. I dare anyone to call them boring!


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