Meet the Critters! The Common Snapping Turtle

In this fourth installment of our Meet the Critters series, we’d like you to meet the common snapping turtle.  This prehistoric looking beast is found from the east coast of North America all the way to Colorado, and from Florida to Canada.  We have two common snapping turtles here at the center, a young turtle whose shell measures about four inches, and a much older turtle whose shell measures about 10 inches.  You’ll have to forgive us for estimating lengths; snapping turtles earned their name through their ferocious bite!

A positively prehistoric beast.

In the wild, adult snapping turtles can grow anywhere from 9-19 inches in shell length, and weigh between 10-15 pounds pounds.  The largest common snapping turtle on record at Cheyenne Bottoms weighed a hefty 34 pounds.  Outside of Kansas, the largest wild caught snapping turtle weighed 75 pounds!  Common snapping turtles live around 28 years in the wild, but individuals over 40 years old are not uncommon.

Common snapping turtles are not picky eaters – they’ll chow down on whatever they can get into their mouths.  While they will occasionally dine on aquatic vegetation, more common foods are crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snakes, other turtles, birds, small mammals, and any carrion they may find.  Snapping turtles are ambush predators, waiting patiently for something tasty to wander by their hiding spot.  Once they’ve identified prey, they lunge forward and grab their prey with their powerful bite.

The common snapping turtle is perfectly at home in the water.

A female snapping turtle can lay over 80 eggs each year.  The eggs hatch in three to four months, and young snapping turtles take five to seven years to reach maturity.  Skunks, raccoons, crows, herons, hawks, snakes, and even bullfrogs prey on snapping turtle eggs and young.  Adult common snapping turtles have no known predators, but many are struck by cars while attempting to cross roads.

About Jean Aycock

Jean Aycock is an Educator at Ft. Hays State University’s Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) at Cheyenne Bottoms. Jean received a Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry - Wildlife Management from Mississippi State University, and a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Arkansas-Monticello, studying shorebird migration. Jean is a native of southeast Missouri, and an avid birder, hiker, and crafter.

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