Species At Risk

Snapping Turtle

(Chelydra serpentina)

Special Concern

Snapping Turtle
Snapping Turtle occurrences map

Description

The Snapping Turtle is Canada’s largest freshwater turtle, reaching an average length of 20-36 cm and a weight of 4.5-16.0 kg. Snapping Turtles have large black, olive or brown shells typically covered in algae. Their tails, which can be longer than their bodies, have “dinosaur-like” triangular crests along their length. Hatchlings are about the size of a loonie and are smaller and darker than adults, with pronounced ridges along the length of their shell.

Action we are taking:

Range

The Snapping Turtle’s range extends from Ecuador to Canada. In Canada this turtle can be found from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia. It is primarily limited to the southern part of Ontario. The Snapping Turtle’s range is contracting.

Habitat

Snapping Turtles spend most of their lives in water. They prefer shallow waters so they can hide under the soft mud and leaf litter, with only their noses exposed to the surface to breathe.

During the nesting season, from early to mid summer, females travel overland in search of a suitable nesting site, usually gravelly or sandy areas along streams. Snapping Turtles often take advantage of man-made structures for nest sites, including roads (especially gravel shoulders), dams and aggregate pits.

Threats

It takes 15 to 20 years for a Snapping Turtle to reach maturity. As a result, adult mortality greatly affects the species’ survival. During the summer, many turtles cross roads in search of mates, food and nest sites. This is risky for turtles as they are too slow to get out of the way of moving vehicles. Snapping Turtles are also sometimes intentionally persecuted. Eggs in nests around urban and agricultural areas are subject to predators such as raccoons and striped skunks.

Protection

The Snapping Turtle is a special concern species under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. A management plan will be prepared.

The Snapping Turtle has also been assessed nationally as a special concern species by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

What You Can Do to Help the Snapping Turtle

  • Every year, turtles all over the province cross busy roads to get to their nesting sites, or use gravel shoulders of roads as nesting sites. Watch for turtles on the roads, especially between May and October.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • As with all wildlife, don’t disturb nests, young or adults. Be respectful and observe from a distance.
  • If you spot a Snapping Turtle you can report your sighting to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful! nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have an important role to play in species at risk recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • As with many other rare plants and animals, the Snapping Turtle depends on wetland habitat. You can help by protecting any wetlands and surrounding natural vegetation on your property.
  • Visit the Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-Pond website to learn more about Ontario’s rare turtles, their habitat and related conservation initiatives. www.torontozoo.com/Adoptapond
  • Register with the Herpetofaunal Atlas program to receive e-mail newsletters, event notifications, and other important updates about the Herpetofaunal Atlas project as it develops. Visit their website to see how you can participate. http://www.ontarionature.org/herpetofaunal_atlas.html

Did you know?

The Snapping Turtle spends so much time underwater that algae grow on its shell. This helps them blend in with their surroundings.

Did you know?

Snapping Turtles are believed to live well over 100 years!

Did you know?

The sex of hatchlings varies depending on the temperature that eggs are incubated at. Eggs that are kept at a temperature of 23-28°C hatch male turtles. Eggs incubated at other temperatures hatch into females.


The Endangered Species Act


Contact your local ministry office


Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.