Common Reptile and Amphibian Species of Northwestern Ontario





Chelydra serpentina
Snapping Turtle


Distinguishing Features - Large. Shell, strong, well developed, brown, olive gray or black. Three keels run lengthwise down the shell (more prominent in young specimens; obscure or absent in adults). The marginals are smooth on all sides except the rear in which they become like jagged teeth in feeling and appearance. The underside of the shell is small resulting in a large amount of flesh exposed on the underside. Males cloacal openings are positioned past the margin of their shell edge. Overall skin skin colouration is varied one specimen to another, especially in immature turtles; they may be light brown to almost yellow, rusty orange, or reddish. On the throat, limbs and ventral surface (including tail), this coloration is richest. Adults are usually brown, gray, or nearly black. Young snapping turtles usually have chestnut brown shells with lighter lines radiating from the middle of each scute. All ages have strong jaws with a hooked beak, strong claws, and a long saw-toothed tail. Male snapping turtles grow larger than females.

Snapping Turtle Size -
23 - 35.5 cm (9 - 14 in)


Found primarily in southern and western areas of Northwestern Ontario, from Dryden to Kenora, Rainy River/Quetico regions, and around Thunder Bay. The snapping turtle is found wherever permanent water exists: in lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and marshes; even water-filled ditches.


Egg laying season occurs in June. Females usually select sandy areas to dig nests; riverbanks, shoulders of roads, driveways, and lawns are common sites. Up to 30 eggs are laid and covered with soil when finished. The females then returns to her home. A high percentage of nests are destroyed by predators. The eggs that survive hatch in about 50 to 60 days. Temperature during incubation determines the sex of the hatchling turtles. Lower temperatures produce mainly males and higher temperatures produce mainly females.


Snapping turtles are omnivorous. They eat anything they can catch and also various water plants. Small prey are swallowed whole while larger items are torn apart with the front claws and swallowed in pieces. The species is usually too slow to catch healthy game fish, leaving injured or dead fish to be consumed. Like the Western Painted Turtle, the "Snapper" must eat most food underwater; their fixed tongue makes it very difficult to swallow out of water.

Overwintering starts in October. Snapping turtles living in shallow bodies of water bury themselves in mud to avoid freezing.

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