Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina)

The dinosaur-like Snapping Turtle is under special concern status in Canada, which means that it may be threatened or endangered due to a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats. They are Canada’s largest freshwater turtle, growing 20-36 cm in length and weighing between 4.5-16.0 kg. Snapping turtles have large black, olive, or brown shells, usually covered in algae. Their tails can be longer than their bodies and have dinosaur-like triangular crests.

Hatchlings are loonie sized and are smaller and darker than adults with pronounced ridges along the shells. It takes 15 to 20 years for a Snapping Turtle to reach maturity. Snapping Turtles can live up to over 100 years old and the sex of hatchlings can vary depending on the temperature that eggs are incubated at. Eggs kept around temperatures of 23-28°C hatch male turtles and eggs incubated at other temperatures hatch females.                                                         

Snapping turtles spend most of their lives in water. They prefer shallow waters so they can dig down into the soft mud and leaf litter, leaving only their noses exposed to the surface to breathe. During the nesting season, females will travel on land to search for a nesting site, which are usually gravel or sandy areas along streams or roads, dams, and aggregate pits. In Canada, Snapping turtles can be found from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia, mainly in the southern part of Ontario, but are slowly reducing in range.

During the summer, many turtles leave their pond to search for food, mates, and nesting sites. Many accidents happen on the road when they are trying to nest near the roadside, because it is usually sandy or gravelly by the roads. This happens often because they are too slow to avoid moving vehicles. They are also sometimes persecuted intentionally by people. Eggs in nests around urban and agricultural areas could be potentially predated by raccoons and striped skunks.

Everyone could help decrease the risk of listing Snapping Turtles as endangered or threatened by reporting a sighting to the Thames Talbot Land Trust, or another conservation organization that helps turtles, or by submitting an online form to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations and coordinates would help a lot more. We could also help by being more attentive on the roads between the months of April and October when they are most active to reduce vehicle fatalities. Volunteer with your local nature club or Provincial Park to participate in surveys or stewardship work that focuses on species at risk. Lastly, by being a good steward, you can help by protecting wetlands and the surrounding natural vegetation on your property, because turtles depend on wetland habitat to survive.

Written by Timothy Tan

Photos by Scott Gillingwater