New York State Reptile
Common Snapping Turtle (common name)
Chelydra serpentina (scientific name)
This large, widespread freshwater turtle is best known for its powerful jaws and aggressive behavior. Because of this strong defense mechanism, it has few predators as an adult. Humans, who occasionally use snapping turtle meat for turtle soup, are a notable exception. The common snapping turtle became the New York state reptile in 2006.
ALSO KNOWN AS
Snapper, common snapper, ograbme
Chelydra serpentina is strong and powerfully built. Its ridged shell is relatively small, so it doesn’t cover its legs or tail, and the turtle does not pull its limbs into its shell when startled. A snapping turtle’s overall color may be quite light or dark, but is almost always a muddy mix of green and brown. Its shell has three rows of bumps that run along its back from head to tail. These are very distinct when a turtle is young, but tend to flatten as it ages. Its tail is about as long as its shell and is serrated along the edges. Its legs, like its tail, have a yellow tint, and also have small nodules scattered over them. Its head is darker and bumpy. Males and females are roughly the same size.
Up to 47 years; up to 30 years in the wild.
Fresh or occasionally brackish bodies of water with muddy bottoms and abundant vegetation, including streams and shallow ponds and lakes.
Range: Central and eastern North America from Nova Scotia into southern Alberta, south across the U.S. and as far south as Ecuador. Introduced in California.
Conservation: Least Concern (LC). Populations are widespread and mostly healthy.
Snapping turtles are not social and rarely interact, though males occasionally fight. Unlike most turtles, the snapping turtle doesn’t bask much, so it’s not as visible as many other species. It tends to bask only in spring, and sometimes does so unobtrusively by floating in water with its shell exposed. A snapper will eat almost anything, and its scavenging activities make it important to its environment. This turtle is strong and can travel some distance—often as much as a mile on dry land—to get to a better habitat or to build a nest.
Snapping turtles may mate from April through November, though June and July are the most common choices. A female need not necessarily mate every year. She can produce fertilized eggs for a few years after a single mating episode. She hunts for a sandy spot to dig a hole, and may build her nest away from the water. She can lay between 25 and 80 eggs every year. She covers them with sand and the eggs hatch 9 to 18 weeks later, depending on how warm the air is.
In cooler areas, hatchlings stay in their nest all winter before emerging in spring. As with many reptiles, the sex of hatchlings is temperature-dependent. Eggs at the bottom of a nest are more likely to produce males, while those at the top are normally female. Hatchlings have many predators, but adults do not. An adult snapper is, however, likely to be hit by a car while looking for a nesting place or better habitat.
Top land speed recorded: None
Invertebrates, frogs, snakes, smaller turtles, fish, birds, small mammals, carrion, and aquatic plants.
Breeding interval: Annual
Hatching period: August–October
Average nest size: 20–30 eggs
Size at birth: 1 in (2.5 cm)
Click to enlarge an image
Raw Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Author: World Trade Press