- Size: usually between 8-14” long but may reach 19” and a weight of 50 pounds.
- Color: carapace (upper shell) – brownish black, becoming olive or tan with age; plastron (lower shell) – cream colored with dark markings; black or gray skin; eyes – black and gold sunburst pattern.
- Habitat: freshwater ponds, rivers, lake edges, estuaries and sometimes salt marshes.
- When and where to observe: may occasionally see them basking in shallow water, or females when nesting (NOTE: They are large, can be aggressive and may inflict a serious bite – keep a distance).
The Snapping Turtle is aptly named – one would be wise to keep their fingers away from the massive jaw attached to the long, flexible neck of this animal!
Besides its jaw, the whole turtle is big; in fact, it is one of the world’s largest freshwater turtles. They may weigh up to 50 pounds but captive ones may be 75 pounds or more. The carapace (upper shell) ranges between 8-14” long, though 19” has been recorded. It is brownish black when the turtle is young, becoming olive or tan with age and features ominous spikes along the back edge. The plastron (lower shell) is cream-colored with dark markings. Skin is black or gray and they possess large, scaled legs, a long tail with three rows of spikes, and webbed feet with large claws. Males are larger than females.
Snapping Turtles are found near freshwater ponds, rivers, lake edges, estuaries and sometimes salt marshes. They particularly favor slow moving water with muddy bottoms for camouflage and to hibernate. These nocturnal turtles tend to be strictly aquatic, though they may occasionally be seen basking in shallow water, or on longs and rocks. With so much time spent in the water, carapaces are often covered with algae and skin with leeches but painted turtles help keep the snapping turtles clean and get a meal in the process.
To go along with their massive size, they also have a wide throat to eat large pieces of food. As omnivores, they consume many things including frogs, fish, tadpoles, crayfish, snakes, small mammals, birds, carrion, and aquatic plants.
Snapping Turtles are mature around 14 years old and mate between April and November. Soon after, females come ashore to lay eggs, especially in July for those in New York. Choosing sandy or loamy soils often around roadsides, females dig a nest cavity 4-7” deep and deposit 20-40 ping-pong ball-like eggs.
Depending on weather and climate, eggs hatch in 9-18 weeks between August through October, though some eggs may remain through the winter and hatch the following spring. Interestingly enough, temperature determines the sex of the hatchlings: if nest temperatures are over 84 degrees, the hatchlings will be predominately female, while lower temperatures have more males in the nest.
Snapping Turtles are abundant and widespread in New York; perhaps thanks in part to the relatively high tolerance for polluted water.
However, being a Snapping Turtle is not without its risks. They are at risk of being hit by cars, and predators eat eggs as well as hatchlings. And despite the scary appearance, they are harvested for food (in fact, the World Wildlife Fund estimated that 150,000 live Snapping Turtles were exported from the United States to other markets in 1998 alone).
- The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State: Identification, Natural History, and Conservation by James P. Gibbs, Alvin R. Breisch, Peter K. Ducey, Glenn Johnson, John L. Behler, and Richard C. Bothner, published 2007 by Oxford University Press.
- Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City by Leslie Day, published 2007 by Johns Hopkins University Press.
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