University of Massachusetts Amherst

Massachusetts North American Amphibian Program

Snapping Turtle

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Herp Atlas 1992-1998 Survey

  • The map below shows the distribution of the Snapping Turtle in Massachusetts based on the original intensive volunteer survey that took place from 1992-1998.
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Updated Distribution Map

Chelydra serpentina (8-19”)

Snapping Turtle
Snapping Turtle

The snapping turtle is the largest (up to 19 inches) freshwater turtle in Massachusetts. It is a mud colored turtle with a long neck covered with many small tubercles (bumps) and narrowly spaced eyes. Snappers have a flat carapace (upper shell) that is ridged with radiation lines in young animals but typically worn smooth in older adults. The carapace is distinctly serrated at the back, near the tail. The plastron (lower shell) is small and cross-shaped. As a result snapping turtles cannot withdraw within their shell for protection. To compensate, they have long necks and use their powerful beaks to snap at potential predators. The tail is as long, or longer, than the carapace and contains three rows of large tubercles running down its length. Hatchlings are typically a little more than an inch in length with very distinct ridges and tubercles and long tails.

Snapping turtles are largely aquatic and are found on land only during nesting season and when moving from one wetland habitat to another. They inhabit a range of wetland and aquatic habitats including vernal pools, marshes, open swamps, sluggish rivers, ponds, and lakes. It prefers environments with soft muddy bottoms where it can lie buried in the substrate. Snapping turtles hibernate in muddy substrate, under plant debris or overhanging banks, and it muskrat burrows. Although they are known to bask out of the water it is more common for them to bask just below the water’s surface with portions of its carapace above the water. Snappers are most active at night and during the hours of dawn and dusk.

Snapping turtles are omnivores, feeding on both plant and animal matter. Fish, amphibians, small turtles, invertebrates, carrion and a variety of plants make up much of the snapping turtles diet. Smaller turtles actively forage for prey while older, larger individuals are more likely to use a wait and ambush hunting method.

Mating may occur at any time during the active season (April – November). Female snapping turtles will sometimes travel long distances to find suitable nesting habitat. Nesting typically occurs in June with females depositing 20-40 eggs in loose, sandy soil with good sun exposure. Sex in snapping turtles is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. Lower temperatures produce male turtles while higher temperatures result in females. The eggs will generally hatch 75-95 days later (August-September). If hatching occurs late in the season, hatchlings may remain in the nest until spring; however, mortality rates are typically high.

 

 

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