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common snapping turtle

Q: I found a small, turtle with a very long tail in my driveway. Do you have any idea what it might be?

Q: I found a small, turtle with a very long tail in my driveway.  It did not look like any turtle I am familiar with as the outer shell was very rough.  I have included a picture.  Do you have any idea what it might be?

A:  I believe you may have found a hatchling of the Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentine or possibly the Florida Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentine oceola. They are sometimes confused with their larger distant relative the Alligator Snapping turtle.  But the Common Snapping turtle has a serrated tail unlike the Alligator Snapple turtle. Plus the Common Snapping Turtle is much smaller.  Its shell or carapace can be tan, black, or dark brown and only about 8 – 14 inches in length whereas the Alligator Snapping Turtle carapace can reach up to 31 inches. Adult Common Snapping Turtles weigh from 10 – 35 pounds while the Alligator Snapping Turtle can be up to 200 pounds.

Common Snapping Turtles are freshwater turtles with a long tail and neck and three rows of low carapace keels. Mating can occur in any month from April and November. Nesting generally occurs between early May and mid-June. Females come out to lay eggs in either the morning or evening in loose sand, loam, or plant debris.  Females lay from 20 – 40 eggs which are incubated for 75 -95 days. The eggs hatch in August to October.

The Common Snapping Turtle can inhabit almost any freshwater river, lake, marsh, swamp, or pond. Some have even been found in brackish salt marshes. It prefers bodies of water which have a soft mud or sand bottom, aquatic vegetation, and plenty of submerged tree trunks or brush. It will eat almost anything such as aquatic plants, algae, arthropods, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Its eggs are preyed upon by raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, bears, crows, and Hognose Snakes. Juveniles and hatchlings are eaten by herons, egrets, alligators, and predatory fish.

When approached by humans or other predators this turtle can bite viciously. In the wild, snapping turtles are estimated to live up to 30 years and potentially 47 years in captivity. Once these turtles reach a certain size there are few natural predators willing to tangle with them.  Snapping turtles sometimes bury themselves in mud with only their nostrils and eyes exposed. This burying behavior is used as a means of ambushing prey. Snapping turtles will eat nearly anything such as carrion, invertebrates, fish, birds, small mammals, amphibians, and a surprisingly large amount of aquatic vegetation.