The snapping turtle, or snapper, is well named, for it will attack anything that comes within range of its powerful jaws, including baby alligators.

Habits Snapping turtles spend most of their time underwater, lying at the bottom of shallow freshwater lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers. In the northern part of their range, snappers hibernate underwater during cold weather.
Snappers become extremely aggressive when confronted on land, and attack is their best method of defense. When threatened, they raise their bodies and lunge fiercely at the intruder.

The snapping turtle is much different from the aquarium turtles kept as pets. Powerfully built, the snapper has strong claws and a hooked beak so sharp it can bite through a man’s hand.

Breeding Mating usually takes place in the water. In early summer 25-50 eggs are laid and covered in a hole dug on land. Hatching usually takes 2-3 months, but eggs laid late in the season may not hatch until the weather warms the following spring.
As soon as they have hatched, baby snappers make their way down to the water where they will append their first few years. They grow quickly and often reach 6 inches in shell length within their first year. Males are fully grown and ready to breed at 3-5 years; females take longer to mature.

Food & hunting Snappers prey on almost anything they can catch and overpower. They eat fish, frogs, salamanders, smaller turtles, water snakes, baby alligators, and small aquatic mammals.
Large prey is seized in the snapper’s jaws and then torn to pieces. Smaller prey is swallowed whole. Snappers also scavenge for food and will feed on the carcass of any dead animal found in the water. Young snappers feed on small fish, tadpoles, and aquatic insects.

Did you know?
• Snappers were once used to find dead bodies in lakes. Tethered to a rope, the snapper was released into the water. When the reptile stopped moving, the trackers knew that it must have found a baby and begun to feed.
• The alligator snapper has a small, worm-shaped appendage at the base of its mouth which it can move at will. It sits, open-mouthed, at the bottom of a lake waiting for small fish which are attracted to the “worm”.
• In some areas of Thailand, turtles are covered in gold leaf and kept in temples.

Key facts
Length: Shell, up to 16 in., overall length up to 32 in. Males are slightly smaller.
Weight: Up to 50 lb.
Sexual maturity: Males, 3-5 years. Females, 4-6 years.
Lifespan: Up to 60 years.

Distribution Shallow freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers along the eastern side of North America from southern Canada down into Central America and northwestern South America.

Conservation Man is the snapping turtle’s main enemy, killing it for food and sport. Still, their numbers remain fairly constant.