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Reptiles and Amphibians of North Dakota

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

species distribution map JPG -- Species Photo


Snapping turtles are commonly found throughout North Dakota. They are black to brown when young and as they age, algae grows on their backs or carapaces to produce a dull greenish-black color. The undersides of the shells or plastrons are a light tan or light gray. They can attain lengths of 8-30 inches overall. In the wild, their weight can reach up to 65 pounds. In captivity, well-fed snappers can exceed 75 pounds. Some people consider snapping turtle meat a delicacy, and snapping turtle meat makes excellent soups.

Snapping turtle heads are attached to a long extendible neck. When aggravated, snappers will open their beak-like mouths, hiss loudly and strike out. A small branch or finger can easily be crushed by an adult's jaw. Once a snapper has clamped onto an object, it hangs on. In some instances the jaw muscles must be cut in order for the snapper to release its hold.

Snapping turtles enjoy warm water with a muddy bottom and plenty of aquatic vegetation. They are often found on the margins of ponds buried in the mud of the warm shallows with only their eyes and nostrils exposed.

The diet of snapping turtles consists of invertebrates, carrion, aquatic plants, fish, amphibians, other turtles, small mammals, and sometimes baby birds. They capture their prey by waiting patiently in the shallow warm water, then ambushing them and crushing the prey in their powerful jaws.

Small snapping turtles will eat insects, worms, tadpoles, small frogs and minnows, which they are very capable of catching.

Snapping turtles mate at any time of the year except during their hibernation period. Females dig nests in the soil away from the water's edge and lay from 8-80 eggs.


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