The Common Snapping Turtle
The common snapping turtle, occurs throughout North America, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains. While it is known for its aggressive personality and tough jaws, which can inflict dangerous wounds, the snapping turtle does not usually become vicious except when disturbed while out of its aquatic habitat. It is one of the largest freshwater turtles. An adult snapper may reach more than 70 pounds, but average weight is around 35 pounds-inhabiting slow-moving rivers, ponds and marshy estuaries and rarely leaving the water except to bask.
Male snapping turtles grow larger than females. They also have their cloacal openings positioned past the margin of their carapace edge. The strong, well developed carapace is brown, olive gray or black, but may be obscured by mud or algae.There are three lengthwise keels down the carapace. These are prominent in young specimens, but are obscure or absent in adults. The marginals are smooth on all sides except the rear in which they become like jagged teeth in feeling and appearance. The plastron is small resulting in a large amount of flesh exposed on the underside.
Male snapping turtles are usually sexually mature by age five; females may take two or more years longer (maturity depends more on weight than age). Mating can take place sporadically over an extended period, from April to November. Many females return each year to the same area to lay their eggs. A female will usually excavate her nest at night or in the morning, digging in an open, sandy spot near vegetation and detritus. The nest is usually between three and seven inches deep, bowl-shaped, in which she will deposit between 20 and 40 eggs. Larger clutches are not uncommon. Large females tend to lay more eggs than smaller ones.
Incubation usually takes place within three months but can extend to more than 120 days. The roughly one-inch hatchlings carry small yolk sacs for several days under their plastrons, which they later absorb. Their egg tooth falls off in several weeks. Meanwhile the young will hide and make their way to water. During this most vulnerable period many hatchlings fall prey to birds such as hawks and herons, fish, snakes, alligators, or other turtles.
Snapping turtles are omnivorous and will eat insects, crustaceans and amphibians, small mammals and ducklings all year round, but include substantial amounts of vegetation in their diets in spring and summer. Full grown snappers have few predators except humans, although some are taken by coyotes or alligators. In the wild a snapping turtle may live up to 40 years.