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eastern snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina)

Photos

Distribution Map

Distribution Map

Characteristics

This turtle has a flattened carapace (upper shell) with knobby keels that smooth out with age. It can grow very large, reaching up to19 inches in length and weighing from 10 to 35 pounds. It has a large head, a small plastron (lower shell), and a long tail which is saw-toothed along the upper side. The carapace is brown; the plastron and bridge are cream to light brown with varying amounts of black on the surface. The skin of the head, neck, and limbs is dark brown or black, and the large head has a blunt, protruding snout. The carapace is often covered with algae. Juveniles are similar to adults in morphology and color. The breeding season is from late April until November. The incubation period is from 80-90 days, and egg laying occurs usually in June. The hard-shelled, white eggs are spherical in shape, resembling ping-pong balls. The eggs are laid in a flask-shaped cavity that the females dig in many varieties of soils on dry land.

Distribution

The snapping turtle is found statewide, including on some barrier islands. It inhabits a wide variety of aquatic habitats, including ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, swamps, and freshwater and brackish marshes. Areas providing cover in the form of stumps, muskrat lodges and burrows, overhanging ledges, and /or soft, deep, organic substrate have the largest populations. The activity season extends from late March through October, but snapping turtles can be found in water in any month of the year.

Foods

This turtle prefers dead, but not rotting, fish. It will also eat crayfish, toads, frogs, fish, aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, muskrats, aquatic plants, and algae. Adults and juveniles have been observed gulping algae and duckweed on the water's surface. Adult snappers have few predators; humans are the primary ones.

More Information

For more information, please visit the Virginia Fish & Wildlife Information Service (direct link to species booklet).