Snapping Turtles, Now on the Move

Every year, from mid-May until the end of June, female snapping turtles abandon the safety of the water in search of a suitable place on land to deposit their eggs. This perilous journey may extend for a number of miles and require that the turtle cross a busy street in search of that perfect nesting area. If you happen to see a turtle on the road, please give them some room so that they can make their way across safely. Once the female finds a nesting site, she will dig a fairly deep hole, deposit 20 – 40 eggs, then cover the hole back up. The eggs will hatch in two to four months, and the young turtles will often over winter in these underground nests, digging their way out in search of water next spring. On land, the eggs and young turtles are subject to numerous predators including raccoons, foxes, and coyotes. Sometimes nearly 80% of the eggs are eaten before the young can hatch. The gender of snapping turtles often depends on the relative temperature of the nest. When the eggs incubate at around 68 degrees, mostly females are produced; temperatures between 70 – 72 give rise to a nearly equal mixture of females and males. At temperatures around 73 – 75, mostly males are produced.

Snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentine) are found throughout the east and Midwest, westward to the Rocky Mountains, and in southern Canada. The “snapping” turtle gets it name from its aggressive nature when confronted on land. This turtle has a long, flexible neck, strong jaws, and sharp claws that it will use to defend itself. Unlike most other turtles that recess in a shell, the snapper is too big, so it becomes aggressive if threatened. In the safety of water, snapping turtles are much more docile and will most often swim away to avoid conflicts. Snapping turtles like slow moving streams, ponds, and shallow estuaries that have muddy bottoms and plenty of vegetation. They eat both plants and animals, and are instrumental in keeping water bodies clean by eating carrion and excess plant material. These creatures have adapted well to humans, and they maintain a fairly robust populations, with a lifespan of up to 50 years and weights close to 80 pounds.

Article by Mike Kay, FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 5/21/22