Department of Environmental Conservation

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Watchable Wildlife: Snapping Turtle

Did You Know?

A mature snapping turtle in the grass
Snapping turtle - Chelydra serpentina
Photo: Susan L. Shafer
  • The snapping turtle is an omnivore (eats both plants and animals) and eats carrion (dead organisms) as well.
  • It often buries itself in the mud with only its nostrils and eyes showing, waiting for unsuspecting prey. These turtles will snap at anything they find threatening. Their snap is so powerful that it can easily shear fingers - so stay a safe distance away!
  • Snapping turtles live 30-40 years on average.
  • It is one of the largest turtles in North America.
  • The snapping turtle is New York's official state reptile.
watchable wildlife binoculars icon

What to Watch for:

Size:

8-20" shell length, average of 8-35 lbs.

Appearance:

  • Upper shell is tan, brown, black or olive gray with three ridges, called keels.
  • Tail is long with jagged saw-toothed ridges.

Where to Watch:

Lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and marshes throughout New York, particularly in slow moving, shallow waters with a muddy bottom. One of the most adaptable reptiles in New York, they are even found in urban waterways. Females move to upland nesting locations predominantly in the early morning or early evening. The preferred nesting locations are within 100 feet of the water and typically occur in sandy or loamy soils, making backyard gardens a frequent nesting location. Where water temperatures are cooler, animals may sometimes be found perched atop rocks that provide easy access back into the water.

Watch a clip about snapping turtles and check out other clips on DEC's YouTube Channel.

When to Watch:

Snapping turtle are most obvious when they are on land, basking or nesting. June is the best time of year to spot a snapping turtle. Snapping turtles overwinter under the muddy bottom of their watery home, so they are generally not seen from November to late March.

The Best Places to Watch:

Click on the links below to get more information about each site.