Creature Feature: Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

Chelydra serpentina

Reptiles Alive Name: “Turtle Rex, aka T Rex”

Hissstory: T Rex was abandoned at the Fairfax County animal shelter and was sent to us in 1998.  He was an unwanted pet that grew too big. Even though he is a native reptile, he cannot be released into the wild because we have no information about where he came from or whether he was exposed to exotic turtles or not.

Reptiles Alive Diet: Dead mice, roaches, and crickets.

Natural Diet: Snapping turtles eat nearly anything that makes the mistake of getting close to their powerful jaws: insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals, insects, and any kind of carrion.

Range: Snapping turtles have an enormous range.  They can be found from eastern Canada south through most of the central and eastern United States and down through Mexico into Central America.  They are native to the Washington DC area.

Habitat: Snapping turtles will take up residence in almost any body of freshwater including:  ponds, lakes, slow moving rivers, and will even live in artificial water features.  Some populations of snapping turtles also can be found in brackish water including salt marshes.


Size: Common snapping turtles typically grow 8-14 inches, rarely to 19 inches.  They can weigh 10 to 75 pounds.

Lifespan: Snapping turtles can live over 40 years.

Reproduction: Snapping turtles breed from April-November. They typically lay up to 80 eggs in June in the mid-Atlantic region of the US. They will venture far from the water to lay their eggs in a safe, dry place. Eggs hatch in 9-18 weeks depending on the weather. Females have the ability to retain sperm internally and fertilize eggs as needed.

 Snapping turtles and their eggs are harvested commercially in many parts of the United States as food for humans.  Scientists are currently studying the effects of this harvest on the turtle population.  Due to their high juvenile mortality rate, snapping turtles are not able to reproduce quickly enough to recover from over-harvesting.

Scientists have discovered that snapping turtles in certain areas, like many fish, have high levels of PCB chemicals in their flesh and eggs.  These stored chemicals can be hazardous to humans who eat contaminated turtles and the chemicals will eventually reduce the overall population of turtles.

Cool Facts: While submerged under the water, snapping turtles are not aggressive toward humans.  In fact, they will retreat if they sense a human nearby.  On land, however, they feel vulnerable.  Their shell does not fully protect them, so they “snap” and bite to scare away any threatening figure.  Just remember, they are “scaredy turtles” – if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.  Please don’t try to bother them – how would you feel if a turtle poked a stick at you?  They don’t like it either!