Eastern (Common) Snapping Turtle

Chelydra serpentina serpentina

Common Snapping Turtle

Distribution in Wyoming







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The distribution of the Eastern Snapping Turtle extends across North America from the southern edge of Canada to northern tip of Mexico, and from the east coast to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. In Wyoming it is found in the drainages of lower elevations in the eastern counties and the Big Horn Basin. It inhabits the permanent waters of cattail marshes, ponds, and lakes, and the deeper pools of rivers and smaller streams of the prairie life zone. It prefers heavily vegetated habitats with muddy substrates and partially submerged logs. Although it is a highly aquatic turtle and easily dehydrated if removed from water, it is often found on land when migrating between water bodies or when searching for nesting sites.

Common Snapping Turtle Common Snapping Turtle

This is a large, heavy, belligerent, and smelly turtle. (How wonderful!) It is active day or night, from late April though October, and spends its time basking in the sun, resting submerged in or on the mud, and foraging for aquatic animals like invertebrates, frogs, or fish and sometimes vegetable matter. This species of turtle overwinters in submerged logjams, overhanging cutbanks, and is reported to sometimes use muskrat lodges. Caution: its is extremely fast, very strong, and bad-tempered—it can and will inflict a bite that is painful and potentially dangerous!

Common Snapping Turtle Common Snapping Turtle

The dark brown, olive, or horn colored carapace—which is always encrusted with algae—can be up to 18 inches across (CL) and rides on the turtle’s back more like a saddle than a protective (armored) covering. The rear margin of the carapace is edged with large saw-toothed scales; this upper surface initially has 3 longitudinal rows of ridged scales in hatchlings, but these become rounded and smoother with age. The white, cross shaped plastron is much smaller than the body. While this feature exposes a large area of the ventral surface to predators/attack, it also provides a better angle of articulation and ample room for moving its large, thick limbs and powerful claws which are used for ripping, digging, and plowing through mud. It has a long neck, a massive head with a dangerously hooked beak, and a long tail ridged with a crest of boney scales. The skin, olive or brown above and yellow or pinkish below, is extensively covered with large rounded or conical tubercles.

Common Snapping Turtle Common Snapping Turtle

Mating occurs in spring. While in the water, the (larger) male will mount the female from the rear and hold on to her with all four limbs. Fertilization is delayed and sperm may be stored within the female for several years until it is needed during ovulation. During egg production, internal fertilization occurs just after ovulation and prior to laying down egg components, membranes, and the shell. There is only one clutch per year. Nesting and egg laying occurs in May through July. The female will move overland to a sunny area with sand or soft soil, dig a shallow cavity about 10 inches deep, and deposit 20-40 eggs before covering the nest and returning to the water. The leathery shelled eggs are just over 1 inch in diameter and, depending on temperature, require a 9-18 week incubation period. Hatchlings are generally seen in late August or September. Sexual maturity is reached in about 4 years for males and about 6 years for females.