Despite the Turtle Back Zoo being a local attraction, I’ve only seen turtles in the area a few times. There are the small turtles that sun themselves on logs in Diamond Mill Pond in the South Mountain Reservation, the box turtle that showed up in my garden, and the box turtle who peed a gallon on me when I picked it up by The Waterfront. Compared to the “Animal Kingdom in the Suburbs,” in which chipmunks, groundhogs, deer, raccoons, moles, opossums, turkeys and foxes are common, turtle sightings are scant.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I spotted a prehistoric-looking creature a few feet from the road!
It was an enormous snapping turtle whose shell was about 2 1/2 feet long and 1 1/2 feet wide. Add in its head and long tail and it was about 3 1/2 feet long. People were gathering and the turtle didn’t look happy. Hon, you know what I had to do once I got home? Look up snapping turtle facts, of course!
Top Ten Interesting Facts About Snapping Turtles:
- Turtles have a hard plate that covers the stomach, called a plastron. But, a snapping turtle’s plastron is small, so they can’t pull their head and legs into their shell for protection. They make up for this lack of body armor with an aggressive temperament.
- In the wild, snapping turtles are estimated to live up to 30 years, and in captivity, they can live up to 47 years. Once they reach a certain size there are few natural predators of snapping turtles.
- A snapping turtle’s tail has sharp ridges running along its length, and is nearly as long as the shell. Their necks, legs, and tails have a yellowish color and the head is dark. A snapping turtle’s mouth is shaped like a strong, bony beak with no teeth. Their skin is rough with characteristic bumps, called tubercles, on their necks and legs. The feet are webbed and have strong claws.
- Turtles lack teeth. Most are mute, but they have keen senses of smell and color vision.
- Living only in fresh or brackish water, snapping turtles prefer water with muddy bottoms and lots of vegetation so that they can hide more easily. They spend almost all their time in water, but do go on land to lay their eggs in sandy soil.
- They like to bury themselves in mud with only their nostrils and eyes exposed. This burying is used to surprise prey.
- Snapping turtles have a small growth on the end of their tongues that looks like a wriggling worm. To capture fish, the turtle opens its mouth to make the “worm” visible. When a fish comes to the worm, the snapping turtle grabs it with its strong jaws.
- Snapping turtles will eat nearly anything that they can get their jaws around. They feed on dead animals, insects, fish, birds, small mammals, amphibians, and a surprisingly large amount of aquatic plants. They kill other turtles by biting off their heads.
- Snapping turtles are solitary. Even though many turtles may be found in a small area, their social interactions are limited to aggression between individuals, usually males.
- Snapping turtles communicate to mates with leg movements while the turtles face each other. Snapping turtles also use their sense of smell, vision, and touch to detect prey. They may sense vibrations in the water.