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TVA River Neighbors
august 2005

 

Some fast facts on the Common Snapping Turtle

  • Widest distribution of any freshwater turtle in North America. Found throughout the Tennessee River system; especially plentiful in larger reservoirs in the southern and western parts of the Valley. Sometimes confused with the even larger Alligator snapping turtle, which is found only in the Mississippi River system.
  • Can reach impressive proportions as adults. Some individuals weigh up to 45 pounds in the wild; upwards of 75 pounds in captivity. Upper shell length around 17 to 18 inches. Lifespan is usually 30-40 years.
  • Mostly nocturnal, found in all kinds of aquatic habitats from rivers and streams to ponds and reservoirs. Prefers soft mud bottoms in warm shallows and abundant vegetation. (NOTE: Most of the turtles observed by reservoir users in the Tennessee Valley are likely to be one of the “basking turtles,” which are often lined up in the sun on a half-submerged log. These include Cooters, Sliders, Stinkpots, and Eastern Painted turtles.)
  • Primitive, almost prehistoric-looking, in appearance. Massive head; neck is very long when extended. Powerful hooked jaw, webbed feet with long claws. Very long saw-edged tail. Brownish/blackish upper shell, lower shell is smaller and lighter in color.
  • Most often encountered on land in late spring and early summer when females leave the water to lay eggs, often traveling considerable distances to find a sunny spot with little or no vegetation. She digs a hole and deposits several dozen eggs, similar in size and shape to ping-pong balls; the eggs are left to hatch on their own in about 2-3 months.
  • Opportunistic feeders; diet consists of waterfowl, fish, small mammals, invertebrates, and plants. They have an uncanny ability to find dead animals and often prey upon diseased and dying fish. Their role as scavengers makes snappers an important component of aquatic ecosystems.

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