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Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network - Réseau Canadien de 
Conservation des Amphibiens et des Reptiles

Chelydra serpentina
Snapping Turtle
Chélydre serpentine


Snapping Turtle

Description
The Snapping Turtle is very distinctive among Canadian Turtles. It is our largest freshwater turtle reaching up to 50 cm carapace length. It is tan or olive to black in colour and has three rows of knobs along the top of the carapace. Each scute may have a pattern of radiating lines however in older adults colour and pattern may be obscured by algae growing on the carapace or worn smooth. The plastron is very reduced in size but the head, jaws, legs and tail are thick and powerful. The tail has a series of small spikes along its length.

Confusing Species
This species is not easily confused with any other species found in Canada.

Distribution
Snapping Turtles occur from the Maritimes westward to parts of Saskatchewan and they may also be found in Alberta. Although they are widespread in Nova Scotia and south into the United States, there are only disjunct populations in New Brunswick. They also occur throughout much of the United States east of the Rockies and as far south as Ecuador.

Habitat
This is a highly aquatic species found in a variety of freshwater habitats. It prefers slow-moving water with a soft mud or sand bottom and abundant vegetation.

Reproduction
In Ontario, females do not begin to breed until they are 17-19 years old. Females dig a nest in May or June in an open area with loose, sandy soil. This is often the side of a road, embankment or shoreline. A single clutch of up to 104 eggs is laid, although half this number is more common. Eggs hatch in the fall although in cool years they may not hatch at all. Hatchlings are 2-3 cm in length. The incubation temperature of the eggs determines what sex the hatchlings will be.

Natural history
Snapping Turtles rarely emerge from the water to bask and then only in the spring. Although they have a reputation for being bad-tempered this is only true when they are encountered on land and therefore feeling vulnerable. In the water, Snapping Turtles are very curious but rarely aggressive although they may mistake dangling fingers for food. They are omnivorous and feed on invertebrates and plants as well as fish, frogs, snakes, small turtles and aquatic birds. They hibernate all winter on the bottom of lakes and rivers.

Conservation Concerns
Snapping Turtles and their eggs are harvested for food although populations are apparently stable. Females are commonly hit by cars while searching for nest sites on the side of the roads. Others are sometimes deliberately shot or run over by people who dislike turtles.