Looks are deceiving, snapping turtles are interesting creatures

Looks are deceiving, snapping turtles are interesting creatures

It’s not going to win any beauty or popularity contests, but it is hard not to admire the snapping turtle.

The Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentine) needs no introduction – most people know it when they see it. The snapping turtle is the largest turtle in Ohio and can weigh up to 35 pounds with a carapace (shell) length of 20 inches, although the average snapping turtle is substantially smaller. is widespread throughout most of eastern North America, ranging from Florida to the Rocky Mountains, north to southern Canada and northeast to New England as far as Nova Scotia.

It is considered a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The larger Alligator Snapping Turtle mostly found in the southeastern United States is considered threatened.

Over the past month or so I have been on hiatus from writing, but I have had a couple of encounters with snapping turtles.

First, at the lime doser on Bailey Run Road, I came across a baby snapping turtle about to enter the road. The doser is used to treat acid mine drainage, but that can be a story for another day – if you want to know what it does there is a large sign on the fence outside of the doser.

Anyway, I scooped it up (the baby snapper) and carried back away from the road. This one was so tiny that it couldn’t help but be cute, and more importantly it was small enough that I didn’t have to worry about my fingers.

Later that same day, while using the string trimmer along the driveway, I discovered a larger, decidedly un-cute snapping turtle basking in the grass – I just gave that one a wide berth and continued my work. 

Then just this Wednesday I noticed a hole along our driveway that upon closer examination revealed perhaps a dozen broken egg shells; apparently something found a clutch of snapping turtle eggs and enjoyed eggs for breakfast.

Incidentally, the sex of snapping turtle offspring is determined by the temperature at which the eggs develop; warmer eggs equal female young.

Snapping turtles can live pretty much anywhere there is water. No pond is out of reach for these turtles, which can travel overland a great distance to find a new home or to lay eggs. I have heard it said that a pond can be defined as a body of water surrounding a snapping turtle. They generally reign supreme in their habitat, and most anything can be food to a large snapping turtle.

I’ve seen snapping turtles in pretty much any type of water you can imagine, from ponds and lakes, to streams and rivers, muddy ditches, even acid-mine drainage impacted streams – one of the largest snapping turtles I have ever seen was in Thomas Fork, which is historically affected by acid-mine drainage. Snappers hibernate over the winter, usually laying in the mud in the bottom of a body of water, “breathing” under the water through membranes in their throat or mouth – ordinarily they must surface to breathe.

Snapping turtles are not considered particularly aggressive while in water – they prefer to flee versus fight – but a snapping turtle on land can be combative indeed, standing its ground, hissing, and biting with its sharp beak anything that gets too close. A mature, male snapping turtle has few natural predators – except maybe humans. Snapping turtles are occasionally eaten as food.

By the way, snapping turtles make poor pets; they are neither cute nor cuddly, and resent being picked up and handled. Although their biting power is greatly exaggerated, they can still inflict nasty bites with their sharp beaks. The safest way to pick up a common snapping turtle is by grasping the carapace above the back legs, or from behind with a shovel.

Nobody really knows how long a snapping turtle can live; in captivity their lifespans are considered around 47 years, but there is a possibility that they can live longer than 100 years. 

Jim Freeman works with the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. His column generally appears every other weekend. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at jim.freeman@oh.nacdnet.net