Common Snapping Turtle

Jul 14, 2019

Chelydra serpentina serpentina (Eastern Snapping Turtle) is a common turtle in the ponds and the marsh of Hudsonville. At 14 inches long, it is the largest turtle to be encountered on land crossing from pond to pond.

The snapping turtles are gray to black, often infested with leech. The head is large with powerful jaws, the tail is long with hard tubercules giving it a saw-toothed appearance. While the younger specimen display a carapace with rough texture, the older ones show a smooth dome. The plastron is greatly reduced (see picture) and the skin is lighter underside.

They derive their name from their tendency to snap or strike defensively when they feel threatened and are capable of delivering a painful bite. Males and females are not distinguishable when adult. This being said the male cloaca extends beyond the edge of the carapace.

They are primarily aquatic but they also can be found inland traveling from one wet area to an other. Females dig their nest on land. In the water they can be active day and night. They will hibernate in winter, and I have even seen one slowly swimming in winter as it was freezing cold. They may climb on stumps to bask, but this is not their common behavior, they rather float on the surface. They eat a wide variety of plants and animals, insects, cray fish, carions and are proficient scavengers.

Female snappers will look for open exposed areas to lay their eggs (I know one digging her nest every year on a tennis court). Nests are usually close to the water, but the turtles can also move overland to a distant nest site and back. One of the nest sites here is behind the vegetable garden (see picture below) and is 300 yards away from the pond, it is flat and treeless as it used to be a tree loading dock. Females will typically lay 20 to 40 eggs, which is the largest clutch of South-Eastern turtles. The young turtles will hatch end of summer and will leave the nest back to the water. I find them on their way to the pond.

Babies and young ones are the rough shelled version of the adult, with a very long tail and keels down the length of the carapace.

The hind legs elevating the rear, lunging forward with open mouth is familiar to anyone who encountered a snapper. It is a defensive posture discouraging even a pack of dogs.  This can come with a foul musk smell. Large snappers do not fear much, they can be eaten though by alligators down South or by otters in the Hudsonville marsh over winter.

Snapping turtles are widespread and abundant in Hudsonville and the surrounding area. I do not know anyone eating them, but they are being taken to make soup with a declining popularity.