Discover Maryland's Herps

Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)

Family Chelydridae

Eastern Snapping Turtle
Chelydra s. serpentina

Photo of Eastern Snapping Turtle courtesy of Linh Phu.
Photo of Eastern Snapping Turtle courtesy of Linh Phu.

Size

8 - 14 inches. Record - 19 inches.

Appearance

  • The Eastern Snapping Turtle is Maryland's largest freshwater turtle.

  • Easily identified by its large head, three low knobby keels along the centerline of the top shell or carapace (though these may be gone in old animals)

  • Small yellowish-tan plastron (bottom shell)

  • Long tail with three rows of spiky tubercles, reminiscent of dinosaurs

  • The carapace is variable: tan, brown, olive to black

  • Scutes may be smooth or have raised lines radiating from a central point

  • Habitats

    Cosmopolitan in habitat preference. Any permanent body of freshwater. Can also be found in brackish water.


    Photo of Habitat for Eastern Snapping Turtle courtesy of Scott A. Smith.
    Photo of Habitat for Eastern Snapping Turtle
    courtesy of Scott A. Smith.

    How to Find

    These animals do not typically bask exposed, but look for their tracks along muddy shorelines or in shallow wetlands, where they often bury themselves in the warm mud just under the surface, only their eyes and nostrils exposed. Known for being bad-tempered, beware of the “snap” of its jaws as it explosively extends its long neck when threatened. Can be found on land during nesting from late April to mid-June, often at great distances from water.

    Distribution in Maryland

    Common throughout Maryland.

    Maryland Distribution Map for Eastern Snapping Turtle

     

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    Maryland Amphibian
    and Reptile Atlas Project

    "A Joint Project of the Natural History Society of Maryland, Inc. and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources"

    For monthly newsletters of the Maryland Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project click on Recent Newsletters and scroll down to the MARA Newsletters.

    The Maryland Herpetology Field Guide is a cooperative effort of the MD Natural Heritage Program and the MD Biological Stream Survey within the Department of Natural Resources and their partners. We wish to thank all who contributed field records, text, and photographs, as well as support throughout its development.