Common Snapping Turtle
Chelydra serpentina
Population size
Life Span
30-40 years
kg lbs 
cm inch 

The Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is a species of large freshwater turtle. It is noted for its combative disposition when out of the water with its powerful beak-like jaws, and highly mobile head and neck (hence the specific epithet serpentina, meaning "snake-like"). In water, it is likely to flee and hide underwater in sediment. Lifespan in the wild is poorly known, but long-term mark-recapture data from Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada, suggest a maximum age over 100 years.


Common snapping turtles have a rugged, muscular build with a ridged carapace (upper shell), although ridges tend to be more pronounced in younger individuals. The carapace (top of the shell) varies in color from black to light brown. Males of this species are larger than females.


Climate zones

Common Snapping Turtle habitat map
Common Snapping Turtle
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Habits and Lifestyle

Common snapping turtles spend most of their time in the water rather than on land. They are most active at dawn and dusk when doing their hunting. As one of the strategies to ambush the prey, these turtles sometimes bury themselves in the mud with only their nostrils and eyes exposed. Common snapping turtles sometimes bask-though rarely observed-by floating on the surface with only their carapaces exposed, though in the northern parts of their range, they also readily bask on fallen logs in early spring. In shallow waters, Common snapping turtles may lie beneath a muddy bottom with only their heads exposed, stretching their long necks to the surface for an occasional breath (their nostrils are positioned on the very tip of the snout, effectively functioning as snorkels). In their environment, Common snapping turtles are at the top of the food chain, thus feeling less fear or aggression in some cases. When they encounter a species unfamiliar to them such as humans, in rare instances, they will become curious and survey the situation and even more rarely may bump their nose on the leg of the person standing in the water. Although snapping turtles have fierce dispositions, when they are encountered in the water or a swimmer approaches, they will slip quietly away from any disturbance or may seek shelter under mud or grass nearby.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Common snapping turtles are omnivores. They consume both plant and animal matter and are important aquatic scavengers. They are active hunters that prey on anything they can swallow, including many invertebrates, fish, frogs, reptiles (including snakes and smaller turtles), unwary birds, and small mammals.

Mating Habits

9-18 weeks
at birth
25-80 eggs

Little is known about the mating system in Common snapping turtles. During the breeding season, males fight each other to get access to females. These turtles mate from April through November, with their peak laying season in June and July. Females travel over land to find sandy soil in which to lay their eggs, often some distance from the water. After digging a hole, the female typically deposits 25 to 80 eggs each year, guiding them into the nest with her hind feet and covering them with sand for incubation and protection. Incubation time is temperature-dependent, ranging from 9 to 18 weeks. Baby snapping turtles are about 2.5 cm long at hatching. They will either leave the nest within a few days and head straight for water or, in cooler climates, hatchlings will overwinter in the nest. Females, and presumably also males, in more northern populations mature at 15-20 years of age while those in more southern populations reach maturity when they are about 12 years old.


Population threats

Common snapping turtles are characterized by high and variable mortality of embryos and hatchlings, delayed reproductive maturity, and low reproductive success. Populations of these turtles have declined sufficiently due to pressure from the collection for the pet trade and habitat degradation. Common snapping turtles travel extensively overland to reach new habitats or to lay eggs. Pollution, habitat destruction, food scarcity, overcrowding, and other factors drive snappers to move and it is quite common to find them traveling far from the nearest water source.

Population number

According to IUCN, the Common snapping turtle is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

These turtles are top predators in their ecosystem; they control populations of various mammals, amphibians, mollusks, reptiles, and insects they prey on. They are also important aquatic scavengers and thus assist in “natural recycling”.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Common snapping turtle is remarkably cold-tolerant. Radiotelemetry studies have shown some individuals do not hibernate but remain active under the ice during the winter.
  • Hibernating snapping turtles do not breathe for, in the northern part of their range, more than six months since ice covers their hibernating site. These turtles can get oxygen by pushing their head out of the mud and allowing gas exchange to take place through the membranes of their mouth and throat.
  • It is widely rumored that Common snapping turtles can bite off human fingers or toes. In fact, they are "quite docile" animals underwater that prefer to avoid confrontations rather than provoke them.
  • In 2006, the snapping turtle was declared the state reptile of New York.

Coloring Pages


1. Common Snapping Turtle on Wikipedia -
2. Common Snapping Turtle on The IUCN Red List site -

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