Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina

Common Snapping Turtle

Chelydra serpentina


Common Snapping Turtle Donated by: @tjweave
Common Snapping Turtle
Donated by:

The Common Snapping Turtle is a very large freshwater turtle.  It has a very large head, a long neck, and a very long tail.  The tail is saw-toothed along the top ridge.  The carapace (or top shell) ranges from brown to black.  They are usually dark when born, lighten up as they grow to adult.  Older turtles begin to darken again.  The average length is between 8-14 inches with some individuals reaching over 20 inches.  They are heavy turtles averaging around 10-25 lbs with some weighing in as much as 50 lbs.  The carapace is known to have high ridges on the younger turtles that become much less pronounced as the animal ages.

First Place Snapping Turtle Photo By: @tjweave
First Place Snapping Turtle Photo
By: @tjweave
Large Adult Common Snapping Turtle By: @nick_wachter
Large Adult Common Snapping Turtle

The Common Snapping Turtle is a long-lived species with a lot of the research indicating they can live well over 100 years.  In much of the common snapping turtle range, it is the largest native turtle species found.  The Southern USA has Alligator Snapping Turtles that get larger and some have Softshell Turtles that get close in length yet weigh much less.

Feeding and Diet:

The Common Snapping Turtle is omnivorous (eats meat and vegetation) however, it tends to be a bit more of meat eater than most turtles.  They are ambush predators catching other aquatic animals as they pass by.

The Snapper By: @brandoneargle1
The Snapper

Common Snapping Turtles feed on invertebrates, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, carrion, and aquatic vegetation.  The Common Snapping Turtle regularly eats on dead or decaying animals that end up in the water.  When I was younger, my family had a ditch that was regularly filled with water in front of our home.  My dad would dump our left-overs in the ditch.  The Common Snapping Turtles in the area quickly learned to wait for nearly daily meals to be delivered straight to them.

General Behavior:

The Common Snapping Turtle is known from it’s rather aggressive defensive behavior.  The Common Snapping Turtle will snap aggressively when it feels threatened.  This behavior is especially intense when found or taken from the water.  Turtles found in the water, and the newly born are much less aggressive.

Snapping Turtle By: @xtremeherper12
Snapping Turtle
By: @xtremeherper12

Common Snapping Turtles are very aquatic.  Many are found with algae growing on their shells.  Snapping Turtles can spend months without ever leaving the water.  Most encounters of Common Snapping Turtle found on land, are from turtles on the move looking for a water source with more food or during periods of breeding and nesting.


The Common Snapping Turtle loves water.  They especially love still water.  They are found in drainage ditches, swamps, natural pools, ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers and streams.  Common Snapping Turtles are found in brackish water in coastal regions.  They can tolerate fairly high salt levels although they prefer less.  They tend to choose water sources stained dark, or have plenty of dark places to hide.  The Common Snapping Turtle is a shy turtle and typically stays submerged when threatened.  Muddy soft bottoms with plenty of aquatic vegetation make perfect homes for Common Snapping Turtle.


Baby Snapping Turtle By: @ben_walsh
Baby Snapping Turtle
By: @ben_walsh

The Common Snapping Turtle will mate in early spring and lay their eggs in late summer.  They lay between 11-83 eggs that hatch out in early fall.  The Common Snapping Turtle nest is dug into a hole in the ground.  These nest are usually a considerable distance from water.  Females are at great risk during the laying season as Common Snapping Turtles are slow on land.  Many are struck by cars while they are crossing the road.  Young are also at high risk when they are first hatched.

Neat Fact:

Snapping Turtle Baby By: @tjweave
Snapping Turtle Baby
By: @tjweave

The Common Snapping Turtle can live over 100 years old.  It is speculated that some may live as much as 150+.  There have been many Common Snapping Turtle found with Indian arrowheads lodged in their shells!

Herping Tips:

  • While walking along ditches, creeks, ponds, and waterholes, be sure to look for them just below the water surface.  Many times all you will see is the outline of their shell under the water or the nose as it comes up for air.
  • When startled, the Common Snapping Turtle will swim off a short distance then bury themselves in the muddy bottom.

    The proper technique used to hold a Common Snapping Turtle By:  @brandoneargle1
    The proper technique used to hold a Common Snapping Turtle
    By: @brandoneargle1
  • DO NOT PICK UP a Common Snapping Turtle by the TAIL.  The tail is part of the animal’s spine and significant damage.  Pick up the turtle by the shell, far enough back not to get bitten.
  • Pick the turtle up to move it off the road, allowing it to bite a stick then dragging it across the road can cause damage to the plastron (bottom shell).
  • Young Turtles can usually be picked up safely.  The aggressive snapping action of this species is usually developed in yearlings.  With that being said, anything with a mouth can bite!

 Thanks again for checking in with Herper’s Guide.  Be sure to let us know how we are doing or share your Common Snapping Turtle stories below.