Snapping Turtle

The common snapping turtle is a nocturnal reptile found in southern Canada from Alberta to Nova Scotia and throughout the eastern two-thirds of America from the Atlantic coast to the edge of the Rocky Mountains and south to the Gulf Coast and into Central America.  They are an ancient turtle that evolved in North America where they have lived unchanged for nearly 90 million years.  The turtle’s ancestors did find their way to Eurasia about 40 million years ago but then disappeared from that continent about two million years ago.  The common snapping turtle is the second largest freshwater turtle in America (only the alligator snapping turtle is larger) and it’s the largest turtle in Ohio.  Found in most counties they live in permanent bodies of water, as well as ephemeral wetlands and ditches, and brackish environments such as estuaries.

Snapping turtles are nocturnal meaning they are most active at night.  They have evolved excellent night vision which allows them to navigate, hunt and forage for food and to lay their eggs.  However, don’t be surprised if you see a snapping turtle moving around during the day, perhaps hunting for food.  Snappers are crucial to their ecosystems as both predators and scavengers. They are the top predators controlling populations of various mammals, amphibians, mollusks, reptiles, and insects that they prey on. They are also important aquatic scavengers providing natural recycling.  They are an important food source.  Snapper eggs and hatchlings are a sought-after meal by many predators including raccoons, foxes, coyotes, skunks, bullfrogs, large birds, and largemouth bass.  Adult turtles have very few predators, but river otters and coyotes have been known to attack them. 

Snapping turtles are threatened by habitat destruction and degradation, pollution/pesticide use, roads (run over by cars), collection for the pet trade and harvested for their shells and meat.  Light pollution is also a threat. Research has shown that common snapper hatchlings will move towards illuminated horizons rather than towards wetland areas.  Adult snappers need the dark to thrive and continue their role in the ecosystem.  Let’s help this ancient animal by turning off all unnecessary lights at night so they can have the dark nighttime environment they need to thrive.

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