Snapping Turtles: King of the Pond - Fox Run Environmental Education Center (2023)

Two species live in the United States, the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle. They live in freshwater habitats and feed on small animals.

Alligator snapping turtle populations are declining and are considered an endangered species due to habitat loss, climate change, and poaching.

What are snapping turtles like?

Snapping turtles have distinctive features that make them easily identifiable.

There are two species of snapping turtles in the US, the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle. Both have prominent bumps on their shells, their skin is rough and bumpy, and the tops of their mouths curve into a sharp beak (1).

The alligator snapping turtle is larger with a triangular head and three prominent ridges along the carapace.

Common snapping turtles have a softer shell as they age, an oval head, and are more likely to be seen on the streets.

Despite their fearsome-looking facial features, snapping turtles are unlikely to harm humans unless they feel threatened.

Where do snapping turtles live?

Common snapping turtles have a fairly wide range, found throughout eastern North America everywhere east of the Mississippi River, including several Great Plains states.

The alligator snapping turtle is found only in 14 states in the southern US, primarily in waters that connect to the Mississippi River and empty into the Gulf of Mexico (1). Once abundant in rivers flowing into the Gulf, its range has been significantly reduced in Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Oklahoma (7).

Both species live in fresh and brackish water, often with soft bottoms and lush vegetation (2). Submerged structures and vegetation not only hide them from predators, but also help them resurface to breathe and often contain higher densities of their prey (3).

What do snapping turtles eat?

Snapping turtles are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. Prey species include fish, frogs, reptiles, birds, and mammals, as well as many invertebrates (4).

Alligator snappers tend to eat less vegetation than their common relatives and have been known to eat small alligators (4).

Learn more about turtles in general in our article Turtles Are Cool!

How is the common snapping turtle different from the alligator snapping turtle?

The common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle are similar in many ways, but there are some distinctive features that set them apart.

The alligator snapper appears more "prehistoric" than the common snapper, with more pronounced ridges along its carapace, a more beak-like mouth, and a squarer head.

The alligator snapper is larger, usually between 20 and 175 pounds, but has been recorded to weigh up to 249 pounds (1). By comparison, snapper average 10 to 35 pounds, with the heaviest measuring 75 pounds (1).

Snapping Turtles: King of the Pond - Fox Run Environmental Education Center (3)

(Video) The Snapping Turtle: King of The Pond

worm shaped

The alligator snapping turtle also has a very unique trait. In its mouth it has a pink worm-like (worm-shaped) appendage that it uses as bait to attract prey (5). It sits at the bottom of a lake or river with its mouth open and fish are attracted to the bait and can swim right into the turtle's mouth!

It is the only turtle species in the world that uses this prey capture technique (5). They are less mobile than snapper and as such this lure technique is an important method of feeding.

They are in danger of extinction?

Alligator snapping turtles are classified as "vulnerable" by the IUCN and are not federally protected. This means that they are critically endangered in the wild (6). Some predict that they could be extinct within 30 years (7).

However, due to declining numbers, they are protected in many states, including Florida.Kentucky,and Georgia.

WhatUSFWShas proposed that the alligator snapping turtle be listed as threatened and deserve federal protection. An endangered animal is an animal that is likely to be in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future if it is not provided with protection.

human influence

Humans are primarily responsible for the disappearance of this important species. They were captured for the exotic pet trade, hunted for their meat and shellfish, and lost much of their habitat (6).

Habitat loss is causing snapping turtles to travel greater distances to find food and mates. This puts them in great conflict with roads and cars.

Like many species of turtles, they have been killed and injured as a result of suffocation and entanglement in fishing gear (7) andclimate changeit also plays a role in its decline. Turtles are reptiles, which means they are cold-blooded and therefore more vulnerable to changes in ambient temperatures.

read our blogKentucky Tortoises: Are They Slowly Approaching Extinction?

In addition to their vulnerability, tortoises take a long time to reach maturity (around 20 years) and have low fertility and pup survival rates (7). Also, due to their long lifespan (50-100 years), they can accumulate toxins and pollutants from their environment, causing health and reproductive problems.

Snapper is not threatened, not yet!

As the name suggests, snapping turtles are not endangered in the US and their population is considered stable. They produce larger clutches than alligator snapper (8) and are found over a larger geographic area. In Canada, however, they are declining considerably.

This is mainly due to habitat loss. Therefore, it is important to protect and conserve such habitats in the US while the snapper population remains stable.

Are there snapping turtles in Wisconsin?

In fact, there are snapping turtles in Wisconsin. They are the common snappers and inhabit the freshwater and swampy lakes found there. They are one of 11 species of turtles found in Wisconsin, but they are the largest and heaviest.

Read our article on Wisconsin tortoises

A great guide to turtles in the upper midwest!

(Video) The Smooth Softshell Turtle

Do snapping turtles have predators?

Snapping turtles feed on a variety of different animal species. Nests are often raided and the eggs of fire ants, rats,raccoons, skunks, badgers,zarigueyas, crows, coyotes and mink (9).

Some of these species are also larger than juveniles. In the water, baby turtles can be eaten by predatory fish such as perch and pike, as well as snakes (9).cranes, herons and herons also eat the babies (9).

Adult snappers are often too large for many of these predators, but alligators, black bears, and otters have been known to eat them (9).

Humans are probably the biggest predator of snapping turtles. Most states have a season when snapping turtles can be caught, trapped, and/or hunted for meat or pleasure. Snapping turtle soup is a traditional southern food.

Can a snapping turtle hurt you?

The alligator snapping turtle's bite force could potentially cut off a human finger, but it is highly unlikely that it will attack unless it feels threatened. They are safe in the water and therefore easily retreat if threatened.

On land, however, they are less mobile and tend to feel more vulnerable. It is best to keep your distance and use caution when entering shallow fresh water.

Most incidents of a snapping turtle biting a human are when they get caught and are caught to kill them.

Will snapping turtles bite you while swimming?

It is unlikely that a snapping turtle will bite you while swimming. They are more likely to swim away when they sense your presence.

They prefer shallow water, so when entering a freshwater pond or lake, you could come into contact with and accidentally step on a snapper. It can bite you if it feels threatened.

However, when you swim, snapping turtles usually do not swim or come close to you.

How do you safely pick up a snapping turtle and move it across the street?

You are likely to see snapping turtles crossing paths, especially near lakes or ponds. Many fall victim to vehicles, but you can safely pick up a snapping turtle and move it down the road.

Approach the animal from behind. Hold the turtle gently but quickly by the sides of its body, with your thumbs on top of the shell and your fingers below. Always keep your head away from your face and body.

The turtle may be heavier than you think, so be careful picking it up and keeping it low to the ground in case you drop it. Move the turtle to a safe place (near the water's edge) and gently lower it to the bottom. Walk away slowly.

Never pick up a turtle by its tail as you can cause serious injury. The tail is attached to the vertebral column.

Snapping Turtles: King of the Pond - Fox Run Environmental Education Center (6)

Rescue and rehabilitation of snapping turtles

Both large organizations andHeimtierpflegerworking to save snapping turtles.

Conservation efforts are trying to address the declining populations. In 2016, a conservation program at the Nashville Zoo began breeding alligator snapping turtles until they were 3 or 4 years old.

The staff then released the turtles into the wild (8). At this age, the turtles are large enough to evade predators.

References to snapping turtles

1. AZ Animals (2022) Snapping Turtlehttps://a-z-animals.com/animals/snapping-turtle/

2. Bosch, A. 2003. „Chelydra serpentina“ (online), Animal Diversity Web.https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Chelydra_serpentina/

3. Howey, CAF and Dinkelacker, S.A. (2009). Habitat selection of the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) in Arkansas.Journal of Herpetology,43(4), 589-596.

4. Wilson-Akademie (2019)Common snapping turtle vs. alligator snapping turtle https://www.upperdarbysd.org/cms/lib/PA02209738/Centricity/Domain/316/common%20snapping%20turtle%20vs%20alligator%20snapping%20turtle%20et.pdf

(Video) How To Find Turtles Hiding In Mud 🐟 #shorts

5. Collins, S. L. y VanDeWalle, T. (2011).Turtles in your pocket:A Guide to Freshwater and Turtles of the Upper Midwest.

6. National Geographic (2022) Alligator-Schnappschildkrötehttps://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/facts/alligator-snapping-turtle?loggedout=true

7. Center for Biodiversity (2021)Endangered Species Protection Proposal for the Alligator Snapping Turtlehttps://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/endangered-species-protection-proposed-for-alligator-snapping-turtle-2021-11-08/

8. Nashville Zoo (2022)Alligator Snapping Turtle Conservationhttps://www.nashvillezoo.org/alligator-snapping-turtle-conservation

9. Science (2022)What are the predators of snapping turtles?https://sciencing.com/predators-snapping-turtles-5951360.html

Author, Ame Vanorio, is the founder of Fox Run EEC and a lover of all turtles.

highlighted

Snapping Turtles: King of the Pond

Two species live in the United States, the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle. They live in freshwater habitats and feed on small animals.

Alligator snapping turtle populations are declining and are considered an endangered species due to habitat loss, climate change, and poaching.

There's No Place Like Home - Turtle Homing Instincts

(Video) Alligator Snapping Turtle vs Common Snapping Turtle

Taking them out of their territory can cause confusion and even death. Turtles that can't find their way home often starve. A study conducted on eastern box turtles found that only 47% of the translocated turtles survived and established a new range.

Kentucky Tortoises - Are They Slowly Approaching Extinction?

You know us from Fox Run Environmental Education Centerlove our turtles! We are also very concerned about the fate of the tortoises in Kentucky. Kentucky is home to several endangered or threatened species of turtles.

Turtles are cool!

Updated September 27, 2019. Turtles are easily recognizable reptiles famous for carrying their homes on their backs. They are often portrayed as slow and gloomy in stories and cartoons. But they are faster and smarter than you think! There are 14 species of tortoises in Kentucky. All of our turtles are aquatic and aquatic, except for one, the Eastern Box Turtle.

(Video) Alligator rushes out of water, steals Florida boy's fish in viral video

FAQs

Should you remove snapping turtles from pond? ›

Remove & Relocate

If a snapping turtle is causing problems in your pond, your best bet is to safely and humanely remove it. Grabbing its shell with your hands is a bad idea; it can easily stretch its neck back across its own shell to its hind feet and snap your fingers, and it can scratch you with its sharp claws.

What kills snapping turtles in a pond? ›

Fully submerged traps, which may come in the form of slat traps, wire basket traps, or funnels, are ideal for snapping turtles. Surface traps, such as tiltboard traps and log traps, are better for sliders and other species that like to bask.

Can you swim in a pond with snapping turtles? ›

While these turtles can be aggressive on land when approached by people, they usually choose to swim away from people when encountered in the water. Therefore, they are not considered to be a threat to swimmers in ponds and lakes.

Are snapping turtles good for the environment? ›

As apex predators, snapping turtles serve an important role in the local ecosystem. Like vultures of the water, they keep waterways clean by eating diseased and decaying animals. Each summer, their eggs and young feed a wide range of other animals over a large portion of the United States.

What eats a snapping turtle? ›

Adult snapping turtles have very few predators but are sometimes attacked by river otters, bears and coyotes. In the southern United States, where their territory overlaps, snapping turtles are preyed upon by American alligators and alligator snapping turtles.

Can turtles overpopulate a pond? ›

The large issue most people have with turtles like the popular red ear slider or soft shell turtle, is that they can rapidly reproduce and become over populated in a small pond in just a few short years. This can become a strain on budget when your fish food is feeding mostly turtles and not your fish.

What keeps snapping turtles away? ›

Habitat Modification

Dredge ponds and rivers to remove the muddy bottoms preferred by snapping turtles. Snapping turtles movement can be curtailed by cutting banks to 90°. Banks embedded with large rocks can inhibit access to nesting areas also.

Will a snapping turtle bite you in the water? ›

While technically possible, a bite from a Snapping Turtle in the water is so incredibly rare that it's not something we should be worried about; just leave the turtle alone and it will mind its own business.

What are snapping turtles scared of? ›

However, like other turtles, snapping turtles are actually afraid of humans on land and only snap in defense when they feel threatened...they would prefer to retreat or for you to retreat out of their way. Snapping turtles are a protected species.

Do snapping turtles eat pond fish? ›

As omnivores, snapping turtles feed on plants, insects, spiders, worms, fish, frogs, small turtles, snakes, birds, crayfish, small mammals, and carrion. Plant matter accounts for about a third of the diet.

Can a snapping turtle hurt you? ›

Are snapping turtles dangerous to humans? Despite their fearsome reputation, snapping turtles aren't dangerous to humans unless they feel threatened. Like any wild animal, they will defend themselves, especially on land where they are less comfortable and more likely to encounter people.

What are the benefits of snapping turtles? ›

Common Snapping Turtles are crucial to their local ecosystems as both predator and scavenger. Being opportunists, these reptiles feed on anything they can snap their jaws into. They primarily eat fish, frogs, insects, aquatic plants and other reptiles. They are more than willing to feed on carrion given the chance.

Why are snapping turtles a problem? ›

Impact: In Oregon, snapping turtles compete with native turtles for food, nesting and cover habitat.

Where do snapping turtles go in the winter? ›

Painted turtles and snapping turtles spend their winters in lakes or ponds, living beneath the ice the forms. They survive because of a variety of adaptations. Turtle metabolism slows down in cold water. Turtles are reptiles and are ectotherms, or cold-blooded.

Do snapping turtles fight for territory? ›

It's that time of year, when you might see monsters.

What is a snapping turtles lifespan? ›

The turtle's typical lifespan in the wild is between 11 and 45 years, but captive alligator snapping turtles have lived to 70 years of age.

How do snapping turtles survive winter? ›

Dec 03, 2020 — Unlike frogs, turtles don't hibernate through the winter. In fact, sometimes you can see snappers and other species moving around under the ice. While their metabolism runs at very low ebb in the cold, they remain alert to changes in light and temperature that signal the coming spring.

What is the largest snapping turtle ever recorded? ›

The largest snapping turtle ever officially recorded was a 16 year old alligator snapping turtle that weighed in at a massive 249 pounds. This massive turtle was weighed at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago in 1999 prior to being sent to Tennessee Aquarium on breeding loan.

Can turtles live in a pond during winter? ›

Most freshwater turtle species survive the winter by submerging themselves in water. Only a few species can survive being completely frozen, so many dive below the frost line of your pond, where the temperatures remain relatively consistent.

What is the best way to remove turtles from a pond? ›

In most cases, you can use a submerged turtle trap for a pond or a floating turtle trap. The former is the most effective method for snapping turtles and soft-shell turtles, while the latter works best on red-eared sliders and other turtles that lay in the sun.

What eats turtles in a pond? ›

In freshwater bodies, gar, catfish, largemouth bass, and other large, carnivorous fish species frequently eat hatchling turtles. Even adult sea turtles fall victim to some of the largest fish on the planet – sharks!

How do you pick up a snapping turtle without biting? ›

If you feel you must handle the snapping turtle you should grab it by the back end of the shell to minimize your risk of being bitten.

What is the best bait for snapping turtles? ›

He finds fish to be the best bait for turtles. Put the bait in the center of the trap where the turtles can't reach it from the outside, so they'll swim in and get it. You can go back in the evening or the next morning to check your trap.

How do you deal with a snapping turtle without biting? ›

Hold the turtle with your thumbs on the top shell and fingers on the bottom shell. Grip the turtle on the top of its shell, just above each of its back legs—like you're holding a tray of food with two hands. This will help you handle the turtle's weight without getting in range of its strong jaws.

Do snapping turtles stay in water all the time? ›

Snapping turtles spend most of their lives under water occasionally sticking just the tips of their nostrils up for air. In the winter they can go into hibernation and not breath for months. All that changes in early summer when the females come out of the water to lay their eggs on dry land.

What is the most aggressive turtle? ›

The Alligator Snapping Turtle is the world's largest freshwater turtle, and by far the most dangerous.

Will a snapping turtle chase you? ›

They won't attack unless provoked or if they feel vulnerable. Snapping turtles aren't usually dangerous, but you should avoid being around them in the water. They won't attack swimmers, but if they feel threatened by you, they might try to chase you out of the area.

What happens if a snapping turtle bites you? ›

Some bites, such as those delivered by snapping turtles, can cause serious injuries including excessive bleeding, wound infection when not treated well, and even amputation of the finger. Even innocuous bites from a common pet turtle such as a red-eared slider can result in a lot of bleeding.

Are snapping turtles violent? ›

Snapping turtles will snap if provoked, but they aren't generally aggressive. In the water, they are usually calm and docile, and they aren't considered a danger to swimmers. However, they can be a bit more feisty on land, according to Animal Diversity Web(Opens in a new window).

Can I feed my snapping turtle fish? ›

You can feed a snapping turtle just about any type of feeder fish, or other live bait such as crickets, snails and worms. You can also feed your snapping turtle pellets.

How many turtles should be in a pond? ›

The more turtles and the larger they get, the more space they will need in the pond. A pond of at least 80 square feet should be considered for five to 10 turtles, depending on their size, with one side deeper for easier drainage, if desired. Easy shoreline access on the deep side should also be provided.

Can snapping turtles catch fish? ›

Though it will ambush prey — snapping quickly at any passing fish or small animal — they can and will eat other things living or dead. This includes just about anything that moves. Fish, turtles, snakes, frogs, salamanders, lizards, birds, and rodents are all fair game.

Can a snapping turtle bite a finger off? ›

A: A turtle biting off someone's finger is certainly feasible. An adult alligator snapping turtle, a freshwater species that occurs in Louisiana, can do that.

Can you pick up a snapping turtle by the tail? ›

Snapping turtles have powerful jaws and long necks. They can extend their necks rapidly. Do not place your hands near the front half of the turtle. Do not pick the turtle up by the tail, as you can injure the bones of the tail and back.

Can snapping turtles bond with humans? ›

Yes, both tortoises and turtles can learn to recognize their caretakers. This does take time, but turtles and tortoises are very smart. They will learn your scent, sounds, and behaviors. They will come to associate you with food and safety.

Do snapping turtles have a good memory? ›

Turtles do possess very powerful learning and long-term memory if it relates to their own survival. Turtles short-term memory is, like other animals, quite limited. It's up for debate as to how long turtles can continue to recognize their owners after a separation.

Why is a snapping turtle in my yard? ›

It's been happening a lot lately as their natural habitats shrink. It's nesting season, says Alexxia Bell of the Turtle Rescue League. Female snapping turtles leave their watery habitats behind once a year to lay eggs. "Basically, they like top loam, where a little sun will hit it.

How cold is too cold for a turtle? ›

If water temperatures fall below 50˚F (10˚C) and turtles are present in the area, they are at great risk of becoming cold-stunned.

What months do snapping turtles hibernate? ›

Turtle hibernation begins in late September to mid-October. The North Americans box turtle enters its burrow and won't come out until roughly mid-March, when the temperature stays a constant 50-degrees. Snapping turtles, by the way, prefer to hibernate underwater, for example at the bottom of a pond.

What month do snapping turtles come out? ›

Snapping turtle are most obvious when they are on land, basking or nesting. June is the best time of year to spot a snapping turtle. Snapping turtles overwinter under the muddy bottom of their watery home, so they are generally not seen from November to late March.

How do you move snapping turtles out of your yard? ›

Never pick a turtle up by the tail, as this could break their tail vertebrae causing a painful injury. Gently moving an especially large or heavy snapping turtle on to your car mat is also a great technique that will keep you (your fingers!) and the turtle, safe and happy.

Are snapping turtles scared of people? ›

The common snapping turtle has a reputation for being fierce, short-tempered, and aggressive, but this impression comes primarily from humans coming too close to them on land. In water, they are shy and will do whatever they can to avoid interaction with humans – and they are mostly in water.

Can two snapping turtles live together? ›

Snapping turtles are solitary, which means that they live alone. Even though many turtles may be found in a small area, their social interactions are limited to aggression between individuals, usually males. The number of turtles found living in the same area depends on the amount of available food.

Do turtles help or hurt ponds? ›

For the most part, turtles are beneficial to the pond environment. They scavenge dead animal and plant material and remove diseased or weakened fish, contributing to improved water quality and fish population health.

Why do snapping turtles leave ponds? ›

Many female snappers right now are leaving their home ponds or bodies of water and looking for a place to lay eggs. These turtles may travel as much as 10 miles from their pond or river to find an appropriate nest site.

Should snapping turtles be in water? ›

What kind of habitat do they need? Snapping turtles live only in fresh or brackish water. They prefer water with muddy bottoms and lots of vegetation so that they can hide more easily. Snapping turtles spend almost all their time in water, but do go on land to lay their eggs in sandy soil.

Can turtles survive winter in a pond? ›

When winter arrives, freshwater turtles dive down to the muddy bottom of ponds where the temperature never gets below 1°C. Nestled in the mud, their metabolism slows down. This allows them to survive for months without food and with very little oxygen. Unlike other cold-blooded animals, turtles don't hibernate.

Do snapping turtles come out of the water at night? ›

Mostly active at night, the snapping turtle spends its days in warm shallow waters where it will bury itself in the soft, muddy bottom, leaving only its head exposed. Or it will float at the water's surface to bask in the sun to regulate its body temperature.

How long do snapping turtles stay in water? ›

These solitary reptiles spend much of their time in the water—even capable of holding their breath for 40 to 50 minutes. They venture onto land to nest with females.

Can snapping turtles drink tap water? ›

Do not use tap water for your tank, as tap water contains chlorine and possibly fluoride which can upset the pH balance of your system. De-chlorinated water needs to be used for the swimming area and filtered water for your turtle to drink.

Do snapping turtles like cold or warm water? ›

Usually best around 75 to 87 degrees. Common snapper are extremely cold tolerant and are often seen moving under ice. Florida snapping turtles, however, need warmer temperatures and aren't as cold tolerant as common snappers.

What do snapping turtles do in the winter? ›

Snapping turtles can be 3 feet long and weigh up to 50 pounds. They do not feed until after they have hibernated. therefore, they essentially spend the winters in hibernation underneath the ice. At 0 degrees Celsius, their metabolism shuts down to help them conserve energy.

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