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snapping turtle

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Unlike other sea turtles, the common snapping turtle cannot fit its entire body into its shell.

Snapping turtles typically live to be 30-45 years old in the wild, and snapping turtles can live to be over a hundred years old! Their living area extends from southeastern Canada to the central and eastern United States, into Florida. Snapping turtle shells can grow up to 20 inches long. These turtles are omnivores, eating both animals and plants. Adult turtles are aggressive and have few natural predators.

5 Unbelievable Snapping Turtle Facts!

  • Snapping turtles in captivity can live to be 50 years old.
  • These turtles are nocturnal, so they hunt at night.
  • The snapping turtle's mouth is shaped like a bird's hooked beak.
  • These turtles live in lakes, ponds, canals and rivers.
  • Most of the time, snapping turtles are solitary (半生).
snapping turtle 1

© AZ-Animals.com

scientific name

The snapping turtle has other names, including snapper and Tortuga Lagarto. In English, Tortuga Lagarto translates to Lizard Turtle. The scientific name of this turtle is Chelydra serpentine . While the first part of the name refers to its family, the Latin word "serpentine" refers to its viper or snake-like behavior. It can move its head and neck like a snake. It belongs to reptiles.

The snapping turtle's scientific name is Chelydra serpentine , and the snapping turtle's scientific name is Macrochelys temminckii .

© iStock.com/Emily Jackson Photography

History and Evolution

The history of these members of the Chelydridae family goes back a long way! These reptiles are generally thought to have evolved 90 million years ago, and they walked around with the dinosaurs, making them one of the oldest types of sea turtles! Even they look prehistoric, especially snapping turtles!

Snappers ventured into Eurasia tens of millions of years ago and remained there until a few million years ago. They became extinct and disappeared everywhere except North America where we see them today. This ancient species has been through a lot, and a lot of change! They are even thought to be the predecessors of four-fifths of all turtles in existence.

Two Types of Snapping Turtles

There are two types of snapping turtles. One is a common snapping turtle and the other is a snapping turtle. The snapping turtle ( Macrochelys temminckii ) is also a member of the snapping turtle family.

  • Common Snapping TurtleChelydra serpentine is the scientific name for the common snapping turtle.
  • Alligator Snapping TurtleMacrochelys temminckii is the scientific name for this turtle. They differ from common snappers in that they have a heavily ribbed shell with a beak-like mouth, and their primary location is in the freshwater that leads to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Suwannee Alligator Snapping TurtleMacrochelys suwanniensis is a different species of snapping turtle that only lives in the Suwannee River basin.
crocodile snapping turtle
Alligator snapping turtles have a ridged shell and a beak-like mouth.

© Sista Vongjintanaruks/Shutterstock.com

appearance and behavior

These turtles have two black eyes and a hook-like mouth, as well as four feet and webbed feet. These turtles have five strong claws on each foot. This turtle's skin is covered with rough bumps called nodules.

The snapping turtle's shell, or carapace, can be dark brown or black. In both species of snapping turtles, the ridges on the snapping turtle's shell are more pronounced than those on the common snapping turtle. Although this turtle's shell can be up to 20 inches long, it is usually between 8 and 18 inches. If eight golf tees were connected end to end, they would be approximately the length of a snapping turtle shell. A snapping turtle's tail has ridges on its surface and is usually as long as its shell.

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The average adult snapping turtle weighs between 10 and 35 pounds. Picture a medium-sized dog playing in your yard. A 35-pound snapping turtle weighs about the same as an adult spaniel. Plus, a 10-pound snapping turtle weighs about as much as an average-sized adult house cat. The largest snapping turtle ever recorded was the 249-pound snapping turtle. It weighs as much as two and a half toilet bowls!

The bottom of this turtle has a strong plate called the plastron. The pan is not large enough for the snapping turtle to fully retract into its shell. So disappearing into this turtle's shell (like other turtles) is not an option when predators come their way.

Conversely, if the turtle is in the water when a predator appears, it will swim away and hide near the bottom of a pond or river. But most of the time, this turtle is aggressive towards any predator, especially when it moves on land. They attack predators with claws, sharp hooked beaks, and powerful jaws.

It has a great range of neck and head movement and can move quickly to fight off threatening animals. The animal is definitely aggressive and is sometimes described as vicious when confronted by predators.

Of course, being able to move the head and neck with ease also helps this turtle catch prey.

These turtles are solitary except during mating season. The number of snapping turtles that live close to each other in a given area depends on the amount of food available there.

A snapping turtle's tail has ridges on its surface and is usually as long as its shell.

© Mjbaker / Creative Commons


These turtles are found throughout most of North America. They live in the southeastern region of Canada all the way to the central and eastern United States. They also live throughout Florida.

Most snapping turtles live in temperate climates — neither too cold nor too hot. However, some of these turtles do live in very cold Canada. These tortoises actually hibernate for five or six months. They bury themselves in the mud until warmer weather returns.

These turtles live in streams, lakes, rivers, ponds and other bodies of water. They spend most of their time in the water except for the mating season.

These turtles have strong legs and webbed feet that make them excellent swimmers. When threatened, they may retreat to the muddy bottom of ponds or rivers. However, they are sometimes found basking on fallen logs in ponds or creeks.

snapping turtle on grass
Snapping turtles live from southeastern Canada to the central and eastern United States.

© Moondigger/Creative Commons


What do these turtles eat? Snapping turtles are omnivores, so they eat both animals and plants. Some of their prey include frogs, insects crayfish, dead rodents, fish, ducks, and plants growing in water. Their powerful jaws allow these turtles to eat a variety of flora and fauna.

A common snapping turtle might sneak up on a duckling swimming in a lake and pull it underwater to eat it. Or it can chase the frog in the water and catch it.

The snapping turtle's tongue can wiggle like a worm. The tortoise is hiding in the grass, twisting its tongue. A fish approaches a hidden turtle thinking it has found a worm, and the turtle grabs the fish and eats it. Snapping turtles can also sense vibrations in the water around them, allowing them to detect prey. For a full breakdown of their diet, check out our "What Do Snapping Turtles Eat?" page and read!

what snapping turtles eat
Snapping turtles are herbivores, eating everything from aquatic plants to worms.

© AZ-Animals.com

Predators and Threats

Adult sea turtles have an aggressive nature and powerful jaws and don't have many predators. Although, these turtles may be eaten by larger turtles.

Humans are actually a threat to snapping turtles. Some people catch these turtles to eat them, or sell the baby turtles as pets.

Unlike adult turtles, turtle eggs and babies are vulnerable to many predators. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, largemouth bass, snakes, crows and great blue herons all eat eggs and very young turtles.

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The survival of these turtles is threatened by water pollution, and they are suffering from habitat loss due to land clearing and construction. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the official conservation status of these sea turtles is threatened.

Snapping turtles are threatened by water pollution, and they are suffering from habitat loss due to land clearing and construction.

©Trevor Meunier/Shutterstock.com

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

The mating season for this turtle runs from April to November. Male turtles use their sense of smell to find females to mate with. They communicate with each other through leg movements.

A few weeks later, a pregnant female climbed onto land and used her legs and claws to dig a hole in the sand. She lays her eggs in holes. A single female can lay a group, or clutch, of about 10 to 80 eggs. They hatch in about 80 to 90 days. These turtles lay a lot of eggs because many baby snapping turtles do not survive to adulthood.

One of the reasons not many baby turtles survive is that the females do not remain in the ovaries. She returns to the water almost immediately, leaving only the eggs behind. The eggs are buried in the sand, their only protection from predators.

Often, there are some eggs in the nest that haven't even hatched. Additionally, many turtle eggs are found and eaten by predators. Predators such as foxes or raccoons can smell turtle eggs on the ground.

When the eggs hatch, baby turtles (also called hatchlings) crawl out. Newly hatched hatchlings are about the size of a quarter. Immediately after emerging from the egg, the hatchlings will crawl towards a nearby pond or river. They have soft shells when they hatch, so they remain very vulnerable to predators as they move towards the water.

Once they are in the water, they find food and shelter on their own. Newly hatched turtles will find small pieces of plants and insects to eat. However, as they grow, they are able to eat larger prey. Additionally, hatchlings' shells harden as they age.

These turtles can live up to 30 years in the wild and up to 50 years in captivity. A wild turtle can be eaten by a larger turtle, captured by humans, or even killed while trying to cross the road. Simply put, a sea turtle in the wild faces more threats than a turtle living in a safe zoo or wildlife conservation park. The oldest snapping turtle in captivity lived to be 150 years old!

baby snapping turtle
Newly hatched turtles will seek out small pieces of plants and insects to eat, but as they grow, they are able to eat larger prey.

©Hoth Cook/Shutterstock.com


These turtles live in North America. They are thought to number in the hundreds of thousands. However, the number of this turtle is dwindling. Populations of this sea turtle are at risk due to habitat loss, water pollution and human poaching.

baby snapping turtle
Snapping turtles are at risk due to habitat loss, water pollution and human poaching.

© JessKay/Shutterstock.com

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heather ross

Heather Ross is a middle school English teacher and mother of 2 people, 2 tuxedo cats and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading homework, she loves reading and writing about all things animals!

Snapping Turtle FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What do snapping turtles eat – are they carnivores, herbivores or omnivores?

Snapping turtles eat both animals and plants. Their omnivorous diet includes frogs, fish, ducks, and plants they find in the water.

Can Snapping Turtles Hurt You?

Yes. Snapping turtles have strong jaws and sharp claws that can injure you. Snapping turtles on land are more threatened than snapping turtles in water. So, if you see one walking on land, it is best to avoid it as it may feel threatened by your presence.

Will snapping turtles bite off your fingers?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes. There have been reports of people having their fingers bitten off by snapping turtles. But remember, snapping turtles want to stay away from humans. So, people who have their fingers bit off by this animal are likely trying to pick them up or dispose of them in some way. Best to leave a lot of space between you and the snapping turtle!

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How fast are snapping turtles?

When you think of the average turtle, you probably don't picture it as fast. But snapping turtles are fast. They can stick their necks out for great distances and then lunge or move in your direction with incredible speed. Also, when they do this, their mouths open wide. So, if you see a turtle, it's best not to go near it.

How do you know if a turtle is a snapping turtle?

The snapping turtle's mouth looks like a hooked beak. In addition, it has a very long tail with ridges on it. The bump on a snapping turtle's tail might remind you of the bump on a dinosaur's tail! Most snapping turtles stay in or near water, so it's unlikely you'll see one walking on land.

How do you safely pick up a snapping turtle?

In rare cases, you should try to pick up a snapping turtle. But, if you do, move behind the turtle to the back third of its body. You can safely place your hands on the back of its shell and pick it up, keeping its head away from you all the time.

Do not try to grab the snapping turtle by its tail. This will do it a lot of damage. A snapping turtle sticks its head out and stretches its neck when you touch it. However, the creature cannot reach behind its body and bite your hand. Remember, snapping turtles are best viewed from a distance.

To which kingdom do snapping turtles belong?

Snapping turtles belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do snapping turtles belong to?

Snapping turtles belong to the phylum Chordate.

What type of crocodile is it?

Snapping turtles belong to the class of reptiles.

What family do snapping turtles belong to?

Snapping turtles belong to the turtle family.

What order do snapping turtles belong to?

Snapping turtles belong to the order Turtles.

What genus do snapping turtles belong to?

Snapping turtles belong to the genus Chelydra.

What type of cover do snapping turtles have?

Snapping turtles are covered with scales.

What type of habitat do snapping turtles live in?

Snapping turtles live in slow rivers, lakes and swamps.

Who are the natural enemies of snapping turtles?

Natural predators of snapping turtles include humans, raccoons, and alligators.

What is the average litter size for snapping turtles?

The average litter size for snapping turtles is 35.

What are some interesting facts about snapping turtles?

Snapping turtles are only found in North America!

What is the scientific name of the snapping turtle?

The scientific name of snapping turtles is Chelydridae.

What is the lifespan of snapping turtles?

Snapping turtles can live 20 to 32 years.

How do snapping turtles give birth?

Snapping turtles lay eggs. Baby snapping turtles are called hatchling turtles.

What is the difference between box turtles and snapping turtles?

The main difference between box turtles and snapping turtles is that box turtles are terrestrial and can hide in their shells and eat plants and insects. Snapping turtles are aquatic animals that cannot fully retract into their shells and feed on small animals and aquatic plants.

What is the difference between male and female snapping turtles?

The main differences between male and female snapping turtles are that the male is larger, has a longer tail and has a curved plastron (bottom shell).

What is the difference between a snapping turtle and a turtle?

The key difference between snapping turtles and turtles is that snapping turtles are aquatic, omnivorous, and live only in the Americas. Tortoises are terrestrial, herbivorous and live all over the world.

What's the difference between snapping turtles and painted turtles?

The main differences between snapping turtles and painted turtles are their size, appearance, and commonalities as pets.

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