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Snapping Turtle

Common Name: Snapping Turtle.

Scientific Name: Chelydra Serpentine.

What to look for?  The Snapping Turtle is best identified by (1) its large size, (2) large head and powerful hooked jaws, (3) long saw-toothed tail, and (4) small cross-shaped, protective yellow plastron on its underside. The shell ranges in color from dark brown to tan or even be black. The head is dark in color. Their necks, legs, and tails have a yellowish color. The hard shell, or carapace, is massive, with a serrated posterior edge and three low keels along the midline. Snapping Turtles plastrons are small and leave much of the extremities exposed. The legs are stout, and the feet are fully webbed and armed with large strong claws.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Look near the shallow edges of Carillon Stonegate Pond. Snapping Turtles may be seen with their heads breaching the surface of the pond. Occasionally, they may be seen crawling onto the shore.

How big are they? The shell of the Snapping Turtle averages approximately eight (8) to twelve (12) inches in length. And their tail nearly matches that length. They weigh in at around ten (10) to thirty (30) pounds.

What are their skills? Swimming? While Snapping Turtles are highly aquatic and spend most of their lives in the water, they do not excel at swimming! Snapping Turtles are a bottom walking species, which means that they crawl along the bottom in shallow water instead of swimming. Also, they can float so long as they hold a significant amount of air in their lungs.

How else do they behave? Snapping Turtles hunt like alligators. They bury themselves in mud with only their nostrils and eyes exposed in order to ambush prey. Unlike many turtles, Snapping Turtles do not bask in the sun. They prefer to be able to breach the surface with their head while laying on the bottom of the pond. Therefore, they are usually found only in very shallow water. Snapping Turtles are not social creatures. Social interactions usually turn into aggressive behavior between two males. Snapping Turtles also use their sense of smell, vision, and touch to detect prey. They can sense vibrations in the water.

What’s for dinner? Snapping Turtles are omnivorous. Snapping Turtles are not picky about their food sources. They will eat almost anything they can catch, including both plants and animals. About one third of their diet consists of aquatic leaves, grasses, and algae. The remaining portion of their diet comes from animal sources, including fish, frogs, and snakes.

Where do they take up residence? Snapping Turtles are found across the eastern two-thirds of the continental U.S. - from the Rocky Mountains east and into southern Canada. They live in permanent, slow-moving, freshwater habitats such as ponds, lakes, marshes, sloughs, and creeks. They prefer water bodies with muddy bottoms and abundant vegetation. They spend time in the soft bottoms of these bodies of water as well as in the aquatic vegetation.

When and where do they breed and nest? Snapping Turtles mate from from late spring through autumn. Mating occurs in the water with the eggs later laid on land, which is typically the only occasion that the female leaves the water. Female Snapping Turtles will lay an average of 25 to 50 eggs. They bury their eggs deep in the sand or mud and have been known to travel relatively long distances in their search for an appropriate nesting site. After laying her eggs, she will return to her pond. Eggs take nine to 18 weeks to hatch depending on weather conditions. Sex is determined by the temperature during egg development with lower temps producing males and warmer temps producing females.

Where do they migrate? Snapping Turtles hibernate rather than migrate. In the winter, Snapping Turtles hibernate in shallow water, buried in the mud in places which do not freeze to the bottom. And they usually hibernate in groups. Snapping Turtles do not breathe while hibernating. Rather they get oxygen by pushing their head out of the mud, allowing gas exchange to take place through the membranes of their mouth and throat. This is known as “extrapulmonary respiration”.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Turtles have no vocal cords, but they can sometimes make hissing sounds.

Interesting Facts About Snapping Turtles:

  • In the wild, snapping turtles are estimated to live up to 30 years.

  • Snapping turtle populations are neither close to extinction nor even threatened.

  • The Snapping Turtle gets its name because of how they eat: Snap! A fish can disappear instantly into the snapper's mouth.

  • No stopwatch needed here, Snapping Turtles travel at the rate of one (1) mile per day!

  • A snapping turtle out of the water is combative and aggressive.

For more information on the Snapping Turtle and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit University of Michigan Animal Diversity WebIndiana Herp AtlasTortoise Trust, and the Audubon Society Magazine.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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