Snapping Turtle Facts for Kids

Have you ever been driving with your parents and noticed a large turtle on the road? Maybe he was trying to cross the street? People may get out of their cars to help, keeping their fingers away from their powerful jaws. Why? Well, even those these giant turtles look like miniature dinosaurs, they are not. But they are just as strong! They are known as snapping turtles, and if you aren’t careful. They can really hurt!

Species Of Turtles

There are more than 350 species of turtles living on land. Turtles live on every continent except for Antarctica. But the cool thing is, out of all of those species of turtles there are only two types of snapping turtles! The common snapping turtle (or the Chelydra Serpentina) and the alligator snapping turtle. These are also known as alligator snappers or Macrochelys temminckii. 

Many people believe snapping turtles and box turtles are related. Although they look similar, they are quite different and are actually in two different scientific categories. 

Snapping Turtle Habitat

Snapping turtles live mainly in North America. They can be found in southeastern Canada, the central and eastern parts of the United States, and Florida. They are also found in the Gulf of Mexico and Central America. Snapping turtles live alone and can be found in many bodies of water like rivers, ponds, and lakes. Snapping turtles only live in freshwater. 

Characteristics Of Snapping Turtles

Snapping turtles are pretty large. They are tan, and black with a rough upper shell. You’ll see a small cross-shaped lower shell and a long tail. Shell lengths range from 40–70 cm to 16–28 inches long. Male and female snapping turtles look pretty similar. The only way to tell them apart is by their size, and males are often two times the size of females. An adult snapping turtle can weigh between 10 to 35 pounds. Even though they are so heavy, snapping turtles are excellent swimmers. 

Snapping turtles can live to around 30 years old in the wild and in captivity. Some snapping turtles have lived to be over 100 years old. You can estimate how old a snapping turtle is by measuring the turtle’s carapace or shell and counting its annuli rings. The annuli rings are found on the turtle’s shells and represent growth. 

Unlike other turtles, snapping turtles can not put their large head and arms/legs into their shells. This plate on their stomach, called the plastron, is smaller than other turtles. This causes the snapping turtle to be unable to pull its body parts into its shell. Since they cannot pull their neck into their shell, snapping turtles have an aggressive nature, which means they are always ready to protect themselves.  Their long, flexible necks can extend to about the length of their body They will use their neck and powerful jaws to defend themselves.

Snapping Turtle Food

Since snapping turtles are so large, almost anything within the turtle’s habitat could become food! They are omnivores. An omnivore is an animal that eats both plants and animals. Some other omnivores are bears, dogs, and even squirrels. 

In the wild, snapping turtles eat aquatic plants, small and large fish, smaller turtles, frogs, and birds like ducklings and mallards. They also eat invertebrates like insects, crayfish, and snails. 

Adult snapping turtles do not have many natural predators because of their size. Bears, river otters, and coyotes have been known to attack them if they are hungry enough. Hatchlings or baby snapping turtles have many predators.

Some predators of baby snapping turtles are

  • foxes
  • coyotes
  • skunks
  • minks
  • fishers
  • raccoons
  • crows
  • herons
  • hawks
  • owls
  • bullfrogs
  • fish
  • snakes

Snapping turtles are nocturnal which means they mostly come out at night. Snapping turtles are like all other turtles and are slow moving. They enjoy using shallow water and muddy bottoms to hide from predators and their dark-colored skin and moss-covered shell to camouflage and ambush their prey. 

Baby Snapping Turtles 

The mating season for snapping turtles is between April and November. The female snapping turtles will start to lay eggs during the warmer months. The nesting season is during June, July, and August. They will leave the water and dig a nest in the sandy soil. Some other common places snapping turtles lay their eggs are lawns, garden beds, muskrat burrows, and on the side of the road.

The nest will be about 5 to 6 inches deep and is bowl-shaped. They usually lay between 20-40 eggs. Sometimes snapping turtles can lay up to 100 eggs. The eggs look like leathery ping pong balls. After the eggs are laid, they cover them with sand or soil and head back to the water. 

Since snapping turtles do not watch over their nests, more than 80% of the nests are destroyed by predators. The common snapping turtle hatches within 3 to 6 months. Alligator snapping turtles hatch between 4 to 5 months. The temperature of the nest determines the gender of the turtles. A warmer nest will produce more females and a cooler nest will produce males. 

Young turtles are only an inch long when they hatch. Their shell is soft and the baby turtles need to make it safely to the nearest body of water. If the young snapping turtles make it to water, their chances of survival increase a bit. 

Snapping Turtle Danger

Snapping turtles are often killed on roadways when looking for a mate or a nesting place. Although you may want to help the turtle, it is always best to keep a safe distance. Adult turtles can be slimy and heavy, making them hard to pick up. You should never pick a snapping turtle up by its tail. You can hurt the tail or the turtle’s vertebrae if you do. 

The alligator snapping turtle population is declining or becoming smaller. The population decrease is because of habitat loss, habitat destruction, and water pollution. They are also harvested for their meat, which is used in turtle soup. These turtles are not considered an endangered species yet. As a result of the hunting, many states have banned hunting them in the wild. 

Interesting Facts About Snapping Turtles

There are some amazing facts about snapping turtles. They are such fascinating creatures and are so interesting to learn about!

The largest snapping turtle ever officially recorded was an alligator snapping turtle. It was 16 years old and weighed 249 pounds. The workers weighed it at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago in 1999. He was the heaviest snapping turtle on record.

The oldest snapping turtle recorded was also an alligator snapping turtle. Her name was Thunder. She was estimated to be around 150 years old. She passed away in 2016 and lived at the Newport Aquarium near Cincinnati.

Snapping turtles are sometimes kept as pets. They need the right habitat, temperature, and a healthy diet to survive. Their size and behavior often make it hard to keep them as pets.

The common snapping turtle is kind of famous. In 2006, it was declared New York state’s official reptile and elementary school children chose it.

Snapping turtles can go months without breathing. During the winter, their metabolism reduces by about 90%. They absorb oxygen to stay alive through cloacal respiration and use their cloaca to circulate oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of their bodies. 

The snapping turtle is one of the coolest turtles in the United States. It is a massive turtle with a long life span. Hopefully, you are lucky rough to see one in the wild! If not, you can find them in many different zoos like the Smithsonian National Zoo, the Maryland Zoo, the Nashville Zoo, and many other zoos in the United States.