Ranging from southeastern Canada to northeastern South America, the common snapping turtle is one four species of snapping turtles, all of witch live only in the Americas. In Canada, anthropogenic activities have resulted in their listed as a Species of Special Concern under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007; and listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act. The species has also been designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.
A female snapper will begin to breed when its carapace, or hard outer shell, reaches 8”; this is at about 15 years old. Her nest is dug in sandy soil during late May to June to hold about 30-50 eggs. These nests are predated by crows, fox, mink, raccoons and skunks. From nests that go unnoticed will emerge the ¾” long hatchlings, dashing towards water, when they become prey to other hungry critters and many birds. Those that make it to the water become tasty morsels for bullfrogs, snakes, fish, otter, mink, and various wading waterfowl. So the mortality rate of these young snappers is very high, resulting in a very low reproductive success rate for every nest. The very few lucky ones that manage to reach a mature 10 to 35 pounds could live another 100 years, becoming apex predators themselves. One huge wild snapper topped 75 pounds, and a captive one reached 86 pounds.
Living in shallow waters of wide, muddy streams and ponds, they’ll often warm their cold-blooded bodies by basking near the surface, or sometimes on logs or rocks jutting out of the water. This basking allows quicker body movements resulting in more efficient foraging activities, as they prey upon fish, frogs, snakes, small birds—just about anything they can swallow along with various plants. They’ll sometimes eat just once a year, if they get a sizable fish! They tend to be a bit combative out of water, but in water are rather skittish, preferring to hide in the mud.
They’ll often return to the same area for nesting, sometimes following a stream bed or ephemeral stream for thousands of yards; There’s some evidence that they use the earth’s magnetic fields for navigation. Sandy road beds make attractive sites: open and sunny, easy digging, well drained. The temperature of the incubating eggs determine the eventual sex of the hatchlings. Within the clutch, the central eggs will more likely produce males. In cold climates, the hatchlings often overwinter in a hibernative state within the nest, emerging in the late spring.
Contrary to popular thinking, the bite of a snapper generates only about ½ the force of ours! The alligator snapper, however, will take off a finger or two; but you’ll need to go to below southern Kentucky to experience that!