Home > Science > Turtle, turtle, turtle: Part two – Snapping turtles

Turtle, turtle, turtle: Part two – Snapping turtles

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I lived the first few years of my life in a trailer park. Byt he time I was five, my parents had moved to a house, but some of my first memories were of the trailer and the neighborhood. There was a rather nice park and field not too far from where we lived, next to which was a small pond. My sister and I couldn’t visit the pond on our own because a snapping turtle was said to inhabit it, and it could reportedly take one of our hands off with its bite. I can’t recall whether or not I ever actually saw the snapping turtle, I want to say that I did, and while it did appear huge at the time and could probably deal quite a bit of damage to a young child’s fingers, it was probably no bigger than your average box turtle. Still, this was probably the genesis of my fascination with turtles. I suppose it could’ve just as easily become a phobia, which would’ve been a damn shame. I much prefer being intrigued by turtles than suffering from chelonaphobia.

Snapping turtles are like a remnant of the past. Despite my rudimentary understanding of biology and evolution, I see snapping turtles as being creatures that should be extinct, but have somehow survived for eons without adapting or advancing. If you put a picture of one next to a stegosaurus or triceratops, it wouldn’t look out of place. However if you did the same with a sea turtle, the sea turtle would look somewhat advanced and out of place. They’ve developed a certain elegance that snapping turtles just lack.

The armored sentinel which was guarding the pond from wandering fingers was most likely a common snapping turtle or Chelydra serpentina. It gets its name because of its long, serpentine neck. It can reach halfway down the back of its shell. Even though they probably didn’t know this at the time, my parents gave me some pretty good advice when they told me to not pick up the snapping turtle. Apparently the one safe way to pick up the common snapping turtle is with a good shovel, preferably a snow shovel.

Common snapping turtles usually mate once a year, but if conditions aren’t ideal for laying eggs the female will ‘hold onto’ the male’s sperm and utilize it when conditions are better. That’s quite the useful feature. It would save humans a whole slew of problems. They use the common snapping turtle in turtle soup, which sounds kind of gross, given the nature of the beast (all apologies) but I’ve had alligator strips before, which is kind of the same thing and that shit was delicious.

Despite it’s name, the alligator snapping turtle is less aggressive than the common snapping turtle. This is probably because it’s much scarier looking. It’s basically like a turtle had sex with a tank, and out popped the alligator snapping turtle. Don’t believe me?


They’re the largest freshwater turtle in North America, and they can hold their breath for up to 3 hours. The average shell length of the alligator snapping turtle is 26 inches and can weigh 175 pounds. They’re much bigger than the common snapping turtle, which was 10-18 inches and only 10-35 pounds, so turtle envy might also explain the common snappers aggressive nature.

In order to catch food, the alligator snapping turtle has a vermiform on its tongue. This is a worm shaped appendage which it uses to lure prey, much like the anglerfish. Despite their frightening looks, the bite force of the alligator snapping turtle is about equal to that of a human. This doesn’t sound like but they can still do a lot of damage. It’s believed that they can live 70 years, though there are some reports that they can live up to 150 years.

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