The Snapping Turtle

The snapping turtle occurs, though it is primarily limited to the southern part of Ontario.  They are found in Mountains.  The snapping turtle’s range is contracting, and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada lists it as a species of special concern.

The Snapping Turtle, or the Chelydra serpentine, is the largest freshwater turtle in Canada. With a range that extends from Canada through areas of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains all the way to Ecuador, the Snapper is found in Canada from the Maritimes west into southern Saskatchewan and parts of southern Alberta, with isolated populations in New Brunswick, but only in the southern part of Ontario. (The following map shows the range of the turtle in Southern Ontario:

You’ll be forgiven if you think the “snapper” looks like something out of Jurassic Park. The Snapping Turtle is certainly most prehistoric-looking turtle species to be found in Ontario, with a long tail (which can be longer than their bodies) that has a series of triangular spikes along the top that are reminiscent of those of a stegosaurus. The Snapping Turtle reaches an average length of 20-36 cm and a weight of 4.5-16.0 kg. The carapace (upper shell) is very small (47 centimetres is the maximum length), is tan or olive to black in colour, has a coarsely serrated anterior (front) edge and three longitudinal ridges, and is often covered with algae. The plastron (lower shell) is also very small.

Hatchlings from “clutches” that could contain up to 60 ping-pong-ball-shaped eggs at a time are about the size of a loonie and are smaller (two to three centimetres in length) and darker than adults, with pronounced ridges along the length of their shell.

The Snapping Turtle is named such because, unable to withdraw completely into its shell for protection. Although adult Snapping Turtles have few natural predators, they nevertheless have developed a defence of snapping repeatedly to scare potential enemies away. In water, the Snapping Turtle rarely snaps at people or other potential threats and will simply swim away if threatened.

Snapping Turtles spend most of their lives in water and they can be found in almost any freshwater habitat. The irony is that they are not particularly good swimmers, often observed as simply walking on the bottom. Therefore, their preference is to shallow waters near abundant vegetation so they can hide under the soft mud and leaf litter, with only their noses exposed to the surface to breathe. It may be surprising how small the wetlands are that they inhabit, including ponds and ditches. They will hibernate in the mud or silt on the bottom of lakes and rivers, usually not too far from the shore.

During the winter months, Snapping Turtles bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of a pond to keep themselves from freezing. While they may move a little during this period, they normally will not eat.

Snapping Turtles will take advantage of man-made structures for nest sites, including roads (especially gravel shoulders), dams and aggregate pits as well as embankments or a shoreline. In Ontario, females do not begin to breed until they are 17 to 19 years old. They dig a nest in late May or June in an open area, usually one with loose, sandy soil, almost any area they can excavate.

They are omnivorous and feed on various aquatic plants and invertebrates, as well as fish, frogs, snakes, small turtles, aquatic birds and relatively fresh carrion. Approximately 90 percent of their diet consists of dead animal and plant matter, and this species plays an important role in keeping lakes and wetlands clean.

A Snapping Turtle will normally take 15-20 years to reach maturity and has a slow reproduction rate. Adults can live up to 70 years in the wild. As a result, the loss of even a few turtles from a population each year is enough to cause the population to decline. Snapping turtle populations are vulnerable to the threats of road mortality, hunting and poaching. Eggs in nests around urban and agricultural areas are subject to predators such as raccoons, herons, hawks,  crows, large fish, snakes, and striped skunks.

Despite the snapping turtle being a species at risk in Ontario, the hunting of the species is still legal.

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