Turtles

´╗┐Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Resources

Figure 1a. The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). Photo by Chelsi Hornbaker, US-Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 
Figure 1b. Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). Photo by Gary M. Stolz, USFWS.  

Identification 

Fifty-one species of land turtles separated into 6 families reside in the US. Only turtles from the Emydidae (pond turtles), Trionychidae (softshell turtles), Kinosternidae (mud turtles), and Chelydridae (snapping turtles) families have significance for nuisance complaints. Within these families, most species cause no conflicts with humans.  

Legal Status 

Most turtles are protected by state laws. Common snapping turtles (Figure 1a) are considered a game species and often licenses are required to take them. Some species of turtles are threatened (e.g. alligator snapping turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, Figure 1b) and endangered; these should not be molested or taken without appropriate permits.   

Physical Description 

The common snapping turtle (hereafter referred to as snapping turtle), like most turtles, has four legs that can be drawn into a protective shell. Snapping turtles have a rough upper shell with a saw-toothed edge along the rear end of the shell. The bottom shell is cross-shaped. Its shell is easily distinguished from the spiked shell characteristic of the alligator snapping turtle. 

Snapping turtles can range in weight from 10 to 35 pounds. Their shells range in length from 8 to 18┬Ż inches. The necks, legs, and tails of snapping turtles have a yellowish color but their head is dark. 

Species Range 

Snapping turtles occur from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Alberta to Nova Scotia.