Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentina

Family: Chelydridae

General Description: The Snapping Turtle is the largest species of turtle in South Dakota, with adults having carapace lengths of 9–20 inches (22.9–50.8 cm). Snapping Turtles have a unique long tail (all other South Dakota turtles have short tails), large head, and a highly reduced plastron. The carapace, head, limbs, and tail are typically dark in coloration, though the plastron and undersides of the body and neck are a pale cream color. The posterior marginal scutes are serrated and not smooth (unlike the lateral and anterior marginal scutes). It can easily be distinguished from other South Dakota turtles by the presence of a long tail and a reduced plastron.

Behavior: Snapping Turtles primarily carnivorous feeding on most invertebrates and vertebrates capable of being consumed, but additionally, can be observed feeding on plant material. Being large turtles, they are typically ambush predators. Adult males will display territoriality and be aggressive to other rival males. Individuals are known to bask on large logs and will overwinter in mud and organic material at the bottom of ponds.

Reproduction: Snapping Turtles breed in the early spring and females will dig a nest in sandy soils and deposit 25–90 eggs from June to July. Eggs are white, leathery, and spherical in shape. Like most turtles, the sex of juveniles is determined by temperature: high temperatures result in females and low temperatures result in males. Females can also store the sperm received from males for many seasons.

Habitat: Snapping Turtles can be found in almost any aquatic habitat. Lakes, rivers, reservoirs, cattle ponds, and wetlands all can be used by individuals. Individuals will frequently travel long distances between these sites.

Species Range: This species occurs throughout most of the eastern two-thirds of the United States. Most aquatic habitats east of the Rocky Mountains, from southern Canada to south Texas are occupied by this species. Additionally, disjunct populations of this species occur in southern Mexico and through parts of Central America.

South Dakota Range: This species likely occurs statewide, but voucher specimens documenting its distribution are few. It may be less abundant in more arid areas of the state due to limited aquatic habitats.

South Dakota Status: This species is not listed by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and is managed as a game species. Adult Snapping Turtles are often hunted for their meat.

Account written by Drew R. Davis and Jacob J. Heumiller

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

County level distribution of this species in South Dakota. Map generated from data collected from voucher specimens and photographic records. See About for additional information.

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)