This Week’s Endangered Species in Focus: Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)


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The Snapping Turtle is a prehistoric looking, stegosaurus like (when moving) freshwater turtle. Its long tail, often longer than its body, has triangular spikes along the top. The upper shell is tan or black in colour and is often covered in algae. Reaching an average length of 20-36cm (max of 47 cm) and weight of 10-35lbs, the Snapping Turtle is Canada’s largest freshwater turtle.  In Ontario, females do not begin to breed until they reach 17 to 19 years of age. Their nests are dug in late May or June, with hatchlings making their appearance in late fall. Snappers are omnivorous (feeding on both plant and animal origin) and feed on various aquatic plants and invertebrates, as well as fish, frogs, snakes, smaller turtles and aquatic birds.



In Ontario, all native turtle species protected from hunting except the Snapping Turtle. The hunting season for the snapper is from July 15 to September 15 in central and southern Ontario, and year round in Northern Ontario. In 2009, Ontario Nature Organization began writing the Ministry of Natural Resources requesting that they remove the snapping turtle from the game list. However, with no response they subsequently wrote again in 2010, requesting a policy review of the hunting regulation. In February 2011, the Ministry rejected same and instead expressed their intention to prepare a Management Plan by September 2014 – this has yet to be published.



  • Special Concern Provincially and Nationally


Important Dates:

  • September 10, 2009: Species designated At Risk;



  • In Canada, the Snapping Turtle can be found from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia;
  • In Ontario, it is primarily found in Southern Ontario – see Ontario Nature’s map below for its range:



  • Occasionally emerging from the water to bask, the Snapping Turtle spends most of its life in the water and prefers it to be shallow so that it’s convenient for them to hide under the soft mud and siltation;
  • The females often place their nest sites at the side of the road, an embankment or the shoreline



  • During the summer months, the Snapping Turtle crosses roads in search of mates, food and nesting sites. This to and from action puts them at risk of getting run over by oncoming traffic;
  • Eggs and nests around urban and agricultural areas are subject to predators such as Raccoons Skunks;
  • Due to the length of time it takes for the snapping turtle to reach maturity, the survival and maintenance of the adult species is primal;
  • Illegal poaching and harvesting continues to threaten the snapper




What YOU Can Do To Help:

  • Visit the Ontario Nature Organization to learn more about their Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship program;
  • Between May to October, watch for turtles crossing the roads;
  • Volunteer at your local Nature Club to learn more about protecting our local species and their habitats;
  • If you encounter a Snapping Turtle, or it’s nest in the wild, contact the Natural Heritage Information Centre and report your sighting here;
  • Protect the wetlands surrounding your property to maintain a healthy environment for this and other rare plant and animal species;
  • Visit the Toronto Zoo’s Ontario Turtle Tally Website (here) to learn how you can participate in this exciting project



  • The snapping turtle spends so much time underwater that algae grows on its shell; this helps them blend in with their surroundings;
  • Snapping Turtles are believed to live well over 100 years;
  • The temperature that the eggs are incubated at, will determine the sex of the hatchlings. Eggs kept at 23-28° will produce male turtles, whereas eggs incubated at any other temp. will become females;
  • Snapping turtles nests contain up to 50 small round eggs, whereas other Ontario turtles will lay only 3-15 small oval eggs;
  • The snapper’s plastron (lower shell) is much smaller than the upper carapace (upper shell). Therefore, when feeling threatened, this turtle can’t withdraw into its shell for protection. While on land, its only manner of defence is to snap repeatedly and scare the predator away. Although in water, the snapping turtle rarely snaps and will likely swim away when threatened.


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