The Bay’s largest freshwater turtle occurs throughout North America, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. While known for its aggressive personality and tough jaws -- which can inflict dangerous wounds when provoked -- the snapping turtle is generally not vicious unless disturbed outside of its aquatic habitat.
Easy to identify, this massive terrapin’s shell is usually brown or black, with a pale underside with dark markings. Its powerful legs are heavily scaled, ending in webbed feet with long claws, and its tail is often longer than its shell. While a snapper’s average weight is around 35 pounds, adults have been known to reach twice that size.
Snapping turtles inhabit slow-moving rivers, ponds and marshy estuaries, rarely leaving the water except to bask. During the day they bury themselves in soft mud or sand; at night, snappers forage, actively seeking prey. 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.
Snapping turtles mate between April and November, often returning to the same area to nest. Females lay 20 to 40 eggs in a 3- to 7-inch deep, bowl shaped nest in an open, sandy spot near vegetation and organic debris. Incubation can take three to four months, producing 1-inch hatchlings that must then make their way to the water. Full-grown snappers have few predators except humans, however – young are vulnerable to hawks, herons, fish, snakes, alligators and other turtles. In the wild a snapping turtle may live up to 40 years.
In winter, snapping turtles hibernate, burying themselves in soft mud inside logs or mud banks. They need little oxygen during this period and absorb most of it through their skin.
For more information: