Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

The Snapping Turtle is not only the largest freshwater turtle in Canada, but also the largest terrestrial or freshwater reptile in the entire country, with an average length of 20-36 centimeters and weight of 4.5 – 16.0 kilograms. The shell of the snapping turtle is black, olive, or brown and typically covered in algae. The tail is often longer than the body, and has an almost prehistoric look, as the length is covered in a series of triangular spikes along the top, reminiscent of a Stegosaurus.

Female snapping turtles may live up to 17 to 19 years before they start breeding. The female lays its eggs in late May or June in open areas, digging a hole in substrate usually consisting of loose, sandy soil – often located on the side of a road, embankment, or shoreline. A single clutch usually contains 40 to 50 eggs that will hatch in the fall, and like other turtles, the temperature while incubating determines the sex of the hatchlings (warmer = female, cooler = male). The Snapping Turtle is omnivorous, with up to 90% of its diet consisting of dead animal and plant matter, but will also feed on aquatic plants and invertebrates, fish, frogs, snakes, small turtles and aquatic birds.

While found throughout southern Ontario in almost any freshwater habitat, the Snapping Turtle prefers slow-moving water with a soft mud or sand bottom and abundant vegetation. This is due to the fact that they prefer to hide under the soft mud and leaf litter with only their noses exposed to the surface to breathe. Due to its non-specific habitat requirements, habitat degradation and loss does not adversely affect the snapping turtle as greatly as other reptile species in Ontario. The late age of maturity and slow reproduction rates make populations very vulnerable to the loss of only a few mature individuals. Road mortality, hunting, and poaching remain the main threats of the turtle, as hunting of the species is still legally allowed in the province of Ontario.

snapping turtle head

photo courtesy of Sharon Nethercott