Hatchling Snapping Turtle

At this time of year, snapping turtle hatchlings begin to emerge from their nests on land and make their way to water. We recently found this little one making its way to the pond at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. Our pond offers good snapping turtle habitat because it has a muddy bottom and lots of emergent and aquatic vegetation around the edges, which the species likes.

This juvenile’s carapace (top shell) was only about an inch long. It has a lot of growing to do, as adults can have carapaces of up to about 19 inches in length. Turtles are long-lived creatures, though; it’s estimated that snapping turtles in the wild can live to be about 30 years old.

As their name indicates, snapping turtles can be very defensive and will use their powerful bite if approached on land. If you’ve ever seen an adult snapping turtle out of the water, it’s clear why they fight back if threatened rather than attempt to get away: on land they are remarkably, ponderously slow.

Snapping turtles have very long tails and small, cross-shaped plastrons, which you can see in the photo below. They also have long necks and will stretch their neck out to try and bite you if you aren’t careful. You can see this little turtle stretching its neck out in the picture where I’m holding it!

Unlike many other species of turtles, the plastron (underside shell) of snapping turtles is quite small. Accordingly, these turtles can’t pull their limbs all the way into their shell to protect themselves. It’s a different story in the water, where these strong swimmers are much more at ease. In most cases, they just swim away if approached by a human in the water.

Snapping turtles eat a varied, omnivorous diet containing everything from aquatic vegetation to small birds (when they can catch them). The little ones may look lost walking around on land, but they’re on a mission to get to the water. If you see them walking, it’s best to let them be on their wild way.

Vicky Hunt

Comments

A turtle layed eggs on our lawn. The eggs are now about to hatch.What do they look like when there 5 days before hatching?

My husband and I found an ingured snapping turtle in May-- it had been hit by a car. We took it to a wildlife rehab. Unfortunately, she had a severe brain injury and had to be put down, but the happy news was she had viable eggs in her. They rehab. extracted the eggs and took care of them until they hatched.

Today my husband and I picked up the hatchlings and released them in the woods near a lake. It was awesome. There were 19 of them and they were fiesty.

That's too bad about the mother, but what a great happy ending with the hatchlings. Thanks for sharing.

My nephew found two snapping turtles and he really wants to keep them as pets. Is there any way he can keep them as pets and them surviving?

What kind of snapping turtle is this in your photo? I have come across one in my yard.

Thanks for your questions!

@ Wiritza Figueroa:
I would not suggest keeping wild animals as pets, especially snapping turtles. While they are small and cute when they are young, when they get much larger you run the risk of getting bit by one of them. Furthermore, while your nephew may be very excited about keeping them as pets now, these turtles can live about 40 years, so taking responsibility for two of these is a very long-term commitment. I would suggest calling a wildlife rehabilitation clinic in your area and seeing if they will accept these turtles, or releasing them where they were found.

@ Mike:
This is a common snapping turtle. They live in many of the Eastern and Midwestern states of the United States.

Mason Fidino
Coordinator of Wildlife Management
Urban Wildlife Institute, Lincoln Park Zoo

Save Michigans reptiles

I just moved to a new location and over a dozen hatchling snappers are moving toward my house away from the 3 foot wide run off creek and I gathered them before the mower came 2 days ago and I walked to the back yard today and saw 8 still straying toward my house away from the small creek. I'm either going to gather them for the winter or let them get ran over by a lawn mower some advice would be helpful.

Snapping Turtle Question

Trey, we asked our experts, and they responded with the following:

"It would probably be for the best to let the snapping turtles be snapping turtles. The mower may represent a significant risk for the turtles at such a young age, but it’s likely that these little turtles are just passing through to another location in the area. If you wanted to do anything for them, I would suggest pointing them back toward the creek or collecting them to move them to another safe location that is nearby. I would highly advise against creating an incubation tank for these turtles. Rearing them is difficult and keeping them in captivity will not allow them to learn the skills they will need to survive. Additionally, turtles in captivity can have different diseases than wild turtles, and reintroducing them can have negative consequences on wild populations."

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