Turtles are an exciting animal to humans because of their peculiar behavioral pattern of retreating into their shells whenever they sense danger.
Many species of turtles are endangered, and the snapping turtle is one of them. It is a species of turtle found primarily in North America and is hunted in this region for its meat.
There are two types of snapping turtles.
- The common snapping turtle — These turtles are found from the southwestern part of the Rocky Mountains to the east coast of Florida and Nova Scotia, down to northeast Mexico. It is widely seen in almost all bodies of water in this large area. This type of snapping turtle is the most widespread.
- Alligator snapping turtles are found only in southeastern areas of the United States, from east Texas to western Tennessee, and covers Missouri, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, and Florida.
Habits and Biology of Snapping Turtles
Common snapping turtles are freshwater turtles, which can grow large, and are found in shallow freshwater such streams, ponds, lakes, or even estuaries from North America, from the southeastern part of Canada to Mexico.
Snapping turtles are larger than other turtles, so they are unable to retreat fully into their shell for protection. But they can snap at their attacker, hence the name.
Appearance and Traits
- Common snapping turtles have rocky-looking shells with many ridges, which are more prominent in younger turtles.
- The alligator snapping turtle’s body is much heavier than other snappers, and the shell is thicker with three prominent ridges on it.
- All snapping turtles are very friendly while in the water but become very angry if taken out of the water.
- Snapping turtles have a protrusion resembling a worm at the end of their tongue. If a fish mistakes it for a worm, they quickly become turtle food if too near.
- Sharp claws help protect them.
The common snapping turtle averages 11.2 inches in carapace (shell) length, 8.9 inches in plastron (fusion of bones between the clavicles) length, and weighs about 13 lbs.
Males are larger than females, all weighing more than 22 lbs. They continue to grow throughout their lives. The common snapping turtle is usually the heaviest freshwater turtle native to this country.
The average adult snapping turtle can range in carapace length from 13.8 inches to 31.8 inches and weigh from 19 to 176 lbs. The largest snapping turtle was reported to weigh 249 lbs. and the longest living alligator snapper lived for 200 years.
The snapper is an aquatic turtle, large, with a big pointy head, long thick tail, and small lower shell. The upper shell can be brown, tan, or nearly black.
They are often covered with algae or mud, however. In younger snappers, the upper shell has three rows of low keels, a ridge that runs from front to back but becomes less apparent as they age.
The snapping turtle has a brown carapace and a cream-colored plastron and bridge. Black spots, varying in size, are encrusted on the surface of the skin. The color of the head, neck, legs, and arms are dark brown in most, but some have black.
The head of the turtle is very flexible, enabling them to stretch and move it in any direction, and has a considerable length similar to a snake head.
Both types of snapping turtles have immensely powerful and sharp jaws. They also have a mouth like a beak for catching prey.
Sexual Dimorphism and Reproductive Traits
Within the species, there is sexual dimorphism, which is a distinct difference in size or appearance between the sexes, as the male adult is larger than the female snapper. At the end of the digestive tract, the cavity for release of genital and excretory products, the cloaca, varies in both genders.
Snapping turtles mate once yearly between April and November. The female digs a hole in a suitable spot, far from the water, to lay her eggs then covers them with mud or sand for proper incubation. Turtles are in water most of the time, except when they come to shore to lay their eggs, which look like shiny ping-pong balls.
They typically lay between 20 and 40 eggs, but sometimes they lay as many as 100 eggs in a single nest. Once the female has laid her eggs, after covering them up, they go back to their body of water. Snapping turtles have no mothering instincts.
The turtle nests are very vulnerable to animals or predators that will dig up the eggs or babies and eat them. Predators destroy an average of 80% or more of snapping turtle nests. Fortunately, turtles lay many eggs, increasing the odds that at least a few babies will reach adulthood.
Common snapping turtles will hatch after three to six months based on the weather. Alligator snappers usually hatch after four to five months. With both types, hatching is completed by the end of November.
An interesting fact is the sex of the baby turtle depends on the temperature of the nest. Cooler nests produce male turtles, and warmer nests produce females. After the babies hatch, they have the dangerous task of making it to the nearest body of water for safety. While adult snappers have almost no predators, a wide range of animals and birds will eat the babies.
A Fun Fact: People sometimes want to have a pet snapping turtle as they are fun to watch and seem friendly towards people in the water. However, capturing a snapper is difficult without severely injuring them. They are able to bite even if caught on the back because of their incredibly flexible neck. If they are caught by the tail, it is possible to break their vertebral column and cause their death.
One can easily capture a smaller alligator snapper, as they can be easily caught by their tails. The adult turtles can be caught by grasping their hard shell on both sides — but watch your fingers, so you don’t lose them!
Do Snapping Turtles Eat Dirt?
As common snapping turtles thrive in brackish water, they tolerate dirt.
What Do Baby Snapping Turtles Eat?
Baby snappers are omnivores, meaning their diet is both plant and animal in origin. They eat earthworms, small fish, aquatic plants, tadpoles, and small rodents. They will eat commercially produced turtle food as well. Baby snappers will eat more meat than an adult turtle, as they need the extra protein to grow.
Those who wish to keep a snapping turtle as a pet must get the proper nutrition to maintain good health in their turtle. Here are three products sold on Amazon that customers have given five stars, indicating the best products.
- Designed for turtles, frogs, and newts. Formulated for small exotic pets.
- Precise amounts of vitamin C, calcium, and nutrients to support vitality and good health.
- This product is easy to digest as it is scientifically formulated for that purpose.
- Feed once or twice a day, only as much as your turtle can consume within several minutes.
- This is a pack of three
- It contains added vitamins and minerals
- There are no artificial preservatives or colors
- This is an all-natural product
- This product is nutritionally complete, with no supplements required
- Floating diet for a natural feeding behavior
- High quantity of fish and animal protein, meeting the needs of carnivorous species
- It contains natural vitamin E
Foods Baby or Adult Snapping Turtles Should Avoid
Avoid giving your turtle food caught in the wild. It may contain unknown pathogens that can hurt your turtle. Instead, buy live food from a reputable pet store. Most pet stores have live foods in stock, so there won’t be a problem finding one.
Do not feed your turtles any vegetables with less than a 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus. Many vegetables fall into this category. As phosphorus prevents calcium absorption, vegetables with high amounts of phosphorus and small amounts of calcium should be avoided.
The shell of the turtle is basically bones. Therefore, calcium is more critical for turtles than any other animal, and vegetables are their primary source of calcium.
Tips on Feeding Your Turtle
- As turtles are both carnivorous and herbivorous, your turtle’s diet should be 50% animal-based and 50% plant-based. You should discuss a specific diet with your veterinarian.
- Most of the plant materials should be flowers and vegetables, with only 10-20% fruits.
- Anything green and leafy should make up a large part of their diet, and don’t forget orange and yellow vegetables as well. Avoid fiber-rich, vitamin-deficient vegetables, as they are mainly water and fiber with few vitamins and minerals.
- Most young turtles eat daily, while older turtles can be fed daily or every other day, depending on their appetite.
1. Why is this turtle in my yard?
If the turtle is large and dark-colored, with deep grooves on the back of its shell and a long tail and, it is probably a female snapping turtle searching for somewhere to lay her eggs.
2. Are snapping turtles dangerous?
They are shy and will flee from people. But if they are provoked on land, they will defend themselves with their powerful jaws, producing a painful and damaging bite. Make sure to keep your pets away, and do not attempt to pick them up.
3. There is no water close by. And I found a turtle nest. Should the eggs be moved near water?
NO! Do not move the nest. Female snappers sometimes travel great distances to find the proper spot to lay their eggs — sometimes up to a mile.
Hatchlings will instinctively head towards the water after emerging from their nest after 80 to 90 days of incubation in August, September, or October.
4. Is anything special required with owning a turtle?
There are basic things all turtles need. They need food, vitamins, lighting, and a clean tank.
5. My turtles are doing something strange with their front legs. What is it?
As it is done mainly in the spring and summer, which is the beginning of the mating season, it is called flirting!
6. Sometimes, my pet turtle looks like its insides are coming out of its tail. Why?
This is commonly known as prolapse. It is a normal occurrence when their reproductive organs and intestines come out of their tail. It does not hurt them and will eventually go back in.
If this often happens, it may cause your turtle distress. A veterinarian may be needed. If this happens when your turtle is on dry land, put it in lukewarm water to keep its body moist.
7. My turtle is acting strange, and I think he may be sick. What do I do?
Make sure your turtle’s water is clean, ensure he is being fed the correct food, and see that your turtle is warm enough.
After checking their environment, if it still seems sick, take him to a vet with turtle experience.
8. Do turtles see in color?
9. Do turtles like to be petted?
Turtles like their bellies scratched, but they do not like to be cuddled.
10. Does my turtle recognize me?
Yes! Turtles can learn to recognize their owner. Watch them go to the side of their enclosure when you bring food!
Turtles make good pets for those with small spaces who don’t want to take a dog out regularly or want a pet that can potentially live many years.
Snapping turtles can be a pet as they are fascinating creatures and can be fun for the whole family to see them grow over the years. But make sure you watch your fingers!