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Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle
Chelydra serpentina
(Order Testudines, Family Chelydridae)

Diagnosis: Adults can weigh up to 40 pounds with a carapace of 18 inches. Three longitudinal ridges run down the carapace (shell). The plastron (underbelly shell) is very reduced and consists of four pairs of shields and a small shield in the front. The tail is almost as long as the carapace and is covered with plates on the underside. The feet are flattened and toes are webbed for mobility in its aquatic habitat.

Habitat: Common snapping turtles prefer permanent ponds with muddy bottoms and lots of aquatic vegetation. It also can be found in sluggish streams and shallow lake edges. In a pinch it will take to whatever water it can find. The common snapping turtle is fairly tolerant to cold weather has been seen walking around on ice and swimming under ice.

Reproduction: Mating occurs underwater from April to November. The male mounts the female’s back and hooks his feet to her shell. He then twists his tail with the female and copulation occurs. In June and July females leave the water to deposit the eggs sometimes as far as a mile away. The average clutch size is 25 eggs and is deposited in a small nest dug with the female’s hind legs. The eggs hatch August through October except in the more northern climates where the eggs will overwinter and hatch in the spring. Sex determination in common snapping turtles is dependent on temperature. Eggs maintained at 68 degrees F produce only females. Eggs at 70-72 degrees produce only both sexes, and only males hatch from nests maintained at 73 to 75 degrees. 

Diet: Common snapping turtles have aggressive personalities, and can shut their mouths very rapidly. They are omnivorous and feed on algae, pond weeds, and duckweed, in addition to crayfish, larval insects, snails, frogs, frog eggs, salamanders, waterfowl and fish. They usually lie in wait on the bottom of a muddy pond or lake and ambush prey as it swims near.

Predators and Defense Mechanisms: Due to the hard shell and aggressive nature of the common snapping turtle it has few predators. They also have a musky odor which may repel some types of predators including humans.

Distribution:  Common snapping turtles occur from Canada throughout the eastern part of the U.S. and Mexico to Ecuador. In the western U.S. it occurs along rivers up into Montana and Colorado. Kansas has common snapping turtles in almost every county in the state.

Distribution of the Common Snapping Turtle.  Range map from

Similar species:  Alligator Snapping Turtle.

Common Snapping Turtle

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Head covered with skin.

Head covered with smooth plates.

Two rows of large scales on underside of the tail.

Irregularly arranged scales on underside of tail.

No plates above the marginal.

Extra row of plates above the marginal.


Observing:  Seeing snapping turtles is often by luck, because they are very secretive. Females are often found crossing roads in June and July when searching for a nest site. 


Turtles in Kansas. By Janalee Caldwell and Joseph T. Collins Copyright 1981

Handbook of Turtles - The Turtles of the United States Canada and Baja California. Archie Carr. 1995

Connecticut Government


Submitted by: Jesse Busenbarrick, July 2013.

Wichita State University
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