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