Common snapping turtle
|Common snapping turtle|
|Female searching for nest site|
|Range map of C. serpentina|
The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is a large freshwater turtle of the family Chelydridae. Its natural range extends from southeastern Canada, southwest to the edge of the Rocky Mountains, as far east as Nova Scotia and Florida and as far southwest as northeastern Mexico. This species and the larger alligator snapping turtle are the only two species in this family found in North America (though the common snapping turtle, as its name implies, is much more widespread).
Common snappers are noted for their belligerent disposition when out of the water, their powerful beak-like jaws, and their highly mobile head and neck (hence the specific name "serpentina", meaning "snake-like"). In some areas they are hunted very heavily for their meat, a popular ingredient in turtle soup. These turtles have lived for up to 47 years in captivity, while the lifespan of wild individuals is estimated to be around 30 years.
Anatomy and morphology
Chelydra serpentina have rugged, muscular builds with ridged carapaces (though ridges tend to be more pronounced in younger individuals). The carapace (upper shell) length in adulthood may be nearly 50 cm (20 in), though 25–47 cm (9.8–19 in), is more common. C. serpentina usually weighs 4.5–16 kg (9.9–35 lb). Any specimen above the afforementioned weights are exceptional, but the heaviest wild specimen caught reportedly weighed 34 kg (75 lb). Snapping turtles kept in captivity can be quite overweight due to overfeeding and have weighed as much as 39 kg (86 lb). In the northern part of its range, the snapping turtle is often the heaviest native freshwater turtle.
Ecology and life history
Common habitats are shallow ponds, shallow lakes, or streams. Some may inhabit brackish environments, such as estuaries. Common snapping turtles sometimes bask—though rarely observed—by floating on the surface with only their carapace exposed, though in the northern parts of their range they will also readily bask on fallen logs in early spring. In shallow waters, common snappers may lie beneath a muddy bottom with only the head exposed, stretching their long necks to the surface for an occasional breath (note that their nostrils are positioned on the very tip of the snout, effectively functioning as snorkels). Snapping turtles are omnivores, consuming both plant and animal matter, and are important aquatic scavengers; but they are also active hunters that prey on anything they can swallow, including many invertebrates, fish, frogs, reptiles (including snakes and smaller turtles), unwary birds, and small mammals.
Snappers will travel extensively overland to reach new habitat or to lay eggs. Pollution, habitat destruction, food scarcity, overcrowding and other factors will drive snappers to move overland; it is quite common to find them traveling far from the nearest water source. This species mates from April through November, with their peak laying season in June and July. The female can hold sperm for several seasons, using it as necessary. Females travel over land to find sandy soil in which to lay their eggs, often some distance from the water. After digging a hole, the female typically deposits 25 to 80 eggs each year, guiding them into the nest with her hind feet and covering them with sand for incubation and protection. Incubation time is temperature-dependent, ranging from 9 to 18 weeks. In cooler climates, hatchlings overwinter in the nest. The Common Snapping Turtle is remarkably cold-tolerant; radiotelemetry studies have shown that some individuals do not hibernate, but remain active under the ice during the winter.  Although designated as "least concern" on the IUCN redlist, the species has been designated in the Canadian part of its range as "Special Concern" due to its life history being sensitive to disruption by anthropogenic activity.
Systematics and taxonomy
Currently no subspecies of the common snapping turtle are recognized. The former subspecies osceola is now considered a synonym of serpentina, while the other former subspecies Chelydra rossignonii and Chelydra acutirostris are both recognized as full species.
Snapping turtles have "fierce" dispositions; however, when encountered in the water, they usually slip quietly away from any disturbance. Snapping turtles have evolved the ability to snap because unlike other turtles, they are too large to hide in their own shells when confronted. Snapping is their defense mechanism. However, these turtles rarely bite humans; they usually flee when threatened.
The snapper is an aquatic ambush hunter, capturing its prey with its beak-like jaws.
The common snapping turtle is not an ideal pet. Its neck is very flexible, and the turtle can bite its handler even if picked up by the sides of its shell. It will make a hissing sound when it is threatened or encountered; however, when in the water and unprovoked, they are fairly docile toward humans.
It is a common misconception that common snapping turtles may be safely picked up by the tail with no harm to the animal; in fact, this has a high chance of injuring the turtle, especially the tail itself and the vertebral column. Lifting the turtle with the hands is difficult and dangerous. Snappers can stretch their necks back across their own carapace and to their hind feet on either side to bite. Also, their claws are sharp and capable of inflicting significant lacerations. When they feel stressed, they will release a musky odor from behind their legs.
It may be tempting to rescue a snapping turtle found in a road by getting it to bite a stick and then dragging it out of immediate danger. This action can, however, severely scrape the legs and underside of the turtle and allow for deadly infections in the wounds. The safest way to pick up a common snapping turtle is holding it by its plastron.
In Italy in recent years large mature adult Chelydra serpentina have been taken from bodies of water throughout the country. They were most probably introduced by the unwise release of pets. In March 2011 an individual weighing 20 kilograms (44 lb) was captured in a canal near Rome; another individual was captured near Rome in September 2012.
The common snapper was the central feature of a famous American political cartoon. Published in 1808 in protest at the Jeffersonian Embargo Act of 1807, the cartoon depicted a snapping turtle, jaws locked fiercely to an American trader who was attempting to carry a barrel of goods onto a British ship. The trader was seen whimsically uttering the words "Oh! this cursed Ograbme" ("embargo" spelled backwards). This piece is widely considered a pioneering work within the genre of the modern political cartoon.
The year 2006 saw the snapping turtle declared the state reptile of New York by a sweeping vote of the New York Legislature after being popularly chosen by the state's public elementary school children.
- Chelydra serpentina, IUCN
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- Chelydra, Reptile Database
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- Common Snapping Turtle, Nature.ca
- Indiviglio, Frank (2008-06-24). "Handling Snapping Turtles, Chelydra serpentina, and Other Large Turtles". That Reptile Blog. That Pet Place. Retrieved 2008-07-20.
- Fang Anning (方安宁), "“小庭院”养殖龟鳖大有赚头" (Small-scale turtle farming may be very profitable). Zuojiang Daily (左江日报) (with photo)
- Una "azzanatrice" catturata fuori Roma. March 17, 2011. Corriere della Sera. Milan.
- Medina, Jennifer (2006-06-23). "A Few Things Lawmakers Can Agree On". N.Y./Region (New York Times). Retrieved 2008-07-20.
|Wikispecies has information related to: Chelydra serpentina|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Chelydra serpentina|
- The Snapping Turtle Page - www.chelydra.org
- Snapping Turtle - Chelydra serpentina Species account from the Iowa Reptile and Amphibian Field Guide
- Common Snapping Turtle, Natural Resources Canada
- Video: How to Help a Snapping Turtle Cross A Road from the Toronto Zoo