Mid-week Reptilian #2: Common Snapping Turtle

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 12:18 AM Bookmark and Share
The Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is perhaps my favorite of all the turtles and tortoises.  Belonging to the family Chelydridae, they and their cousins the Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) are the only two species in the family. As such, they're relatively unique among other Testudines (1, 2, 3) which isn't at all surprising by the looks of these prehistoric little beasties.

Widespread in North and Central America, there are 4 known subspecies of common snapper: the Northern (C. s. serpentina), Florida (C. s. osceola), Mexican (C. s. rossignoni) and the Ecuadorian snapping turtle (C. s. acutirostris). Effective as predators and scavengers, they've been know to eat pretty much whatever creatures they can catch, carrion, and some plant matter. 

Hatched from eggs like all other turtles, snappers begin life about the size of a silver dollar, and sport an impressively long tail and cute little umbilical scar (yes, turtles do have belly buttons!). Eggs are laid in mid- to late summer and hatch around 2-3 months later. In colder latitudes hatchlings might overwinter in the nest, and emerge the following spring.

A larger individual seen during mid-June, 2009 near Aurora, NY. 
Possibly a female traveling overland looking to lay her eggs.

Humans are thought to be the primary "predators" of adults, though they have also been known to wind up as some other carnivore's dinner.  Egg predation by various species has been documented (e.g. raccoons, foxes, hognose snakes, etc.) and seems common. Hatchlings are of course are more susceptible than adults to predation due to their small size, but as a friend of mine nicely documented while out with his camera one day - they too can put those jaws to work when he need arises...

Great Blue Heron trying to eat (or escape from?) 
a young Common Snapping Turtle. Ithaca, NY
Photo by: Raghuram Ramanujan (C) 2007

Oh, and in case you were wondering, these guys as well as other turtles seem to be more closely related to birds than are lizards and snakes - though not as close as the crocodilians.


Posted by: David Steen | 9/23/2009 6:29 PM

Awesome beast.

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