view counter

Articles by Story and photos by Wayne Bierbaum

Watch for babies and respect elders 

The common snapping turtle’s life history shows extreme longevity and perseverance.

They begin their life by cutting through an eggshell, digging through a half foot of dirt, then crawling up to a half mile to water. Many eggs are eaten by raccoons, and the tiny young are food for many animals, even other turtles. Living on a diet of insects, tadpoles and minnows, the young spend most of their time hiding in dense pond weeds.

The first two years of life are the hardest. Very few, maybe one percent, survive. 

Snapping turtles grow slowly, taking 15 years to reach maturity. Their lifespan is unknown, but some tagged individuals have been over 100 years old and weigh close to 90 pounds. Locally, some have been up to 75 pounds. A large common snapping Turtle may well be older than you.

They are ambush predators, eating almost anything that comes along — and that list is quite long. They have been witnessed killing a raccoon, but generally they eat fish that swim too close to gaping mouths.

Through winter, snappers hibernate under water and frequently under mud.  

In the warm seasons, they mate. The female can store live sperm for several years, waiting until the conditions are right for egg laying. Starting in the late spring, female common snapping turtles laden with up to 75 eggs haul themselves out of the safety of water to find an area suitable for laying eggs. The nesting area can be up to a half-mile from water and uphill.

On their journey, you might see them crossing roads, laying eggs in gardens, hissing at pets and blocking trails. As for human contact, for the most part they are shy, but when cornered they can be very aggressive. Their strong jaws can cause serious damage to hands and feet.

To rescue a large snapping turtle crossing a road, either use a shovel to lift it or toss a towel onto the head and back and pick it up by the sides of the shell. Picking it up by the tail can tear the artery going into the tail and cause the animal to perish. Some people are able to pick them up by the shell at the area where the back legs go in, but there is a risk of getting bitten or scratched. Move the turtle in the direction that the turtle was already going.

Mid to late summer is the time the turtles hatch from their underground nests. They are a little more than an inch long and look like a clump of dirt or a partially smashed acorn. The hatchlings are usually only noticed when they move or are discovered by a pet. If you find a baby turtle, move it to a nearby body of fresh or brackish water. Snappers cannot survive the salinity of the ocean.