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What is the Common Snapping Turtle?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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The common snapping turtle is an aquatic species of reptile indigenous to North America, Central America, and some parts of northern South America. This species can reach an adult weight of 33 pounds (15 kg), and an adult length of 19.5 inches (50 cm). The common snapping turtle is largely carnivorous, and preys mostly upon frogs and fish, though aquatic plants, birds, and small animals have been known to form part of its diet. These turtles are mostly nocturnal, and capable of hibernating in the mud for long periods, especially during the winter. They typically mate in the spring, and females of the species usually lay eggs in late spring or early summer that hatch in early autumn.

The species of turtle known as the common snapping turtle may be one of the most common North American turtles, though they can generally be found inhabiting regions as far south as Ecuador. These turtles typically have a very strong, powerful jaw, and a sharp, hooked beak. They often have large claws. The carapace or upper shell of the common snapping turtle is usually brown or olive green, without additional markings. The common snapping turtle's underside is usually pale and yellowish in hue.

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These omnivorous turtles usually feed upon small fish, amphibians, and aquatic plants. They may also hunt small animals and birds, and have been known to scavenge drowned animals and dead fish. They generally prefer to inhabit small ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers unaffected by strong water currents. They typically prefer to inhabit bodies of water with soft, muddy bottoms, since they usually hunt by partially burying themselves beneath the surface of the mud. They may also pass the winter months hibernating beneath the mud.

The common snapping turtle usually mates in the first weeks of spring, and the females may travel up to six miles (10 km) to reach nesting grounds in late spring and early summer. The females usually bury their round, white eggs beneath the mud. The young turtles normally hatch about 90 days later, and make their way to a suitable habitat.

These turtles are generally very agile in the water, and most young specimens are quite agile on land. They typically hunt in a snake-like manner, lashing out quickly with their powerful jaws. They are considered capable of inflicting serious bite wounds, even to humans and large animals.

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