Just a Bit Snappy

Our Dancing Turtle wildlife rehabilitators, Jen and Debbie, agree that snapping turtles are among our favorite patients. Although extra care must be taken to avoid their powerful jaws when treating them, snapping turtles tend to be friendly and relaxed while recovering. They seem to appreciate receiving care, even if they are just a bit snappy.

common snapping turtle in a stock tank under a light

This snapping turtle was injured by a car. While snappy during her initial treatment, she is relaxed and curious now.

The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is native to New York. Snapping turtles are found from southern Ontario in Canada all the way to Florida and west to the Rocky Mountains. Snapping turtles live in rivers, lakes, marshes, shallow ponds, and streams. They may also live in brackish environments, where rivers and streams meet salt water.

Snapping turtles spend most of their time in the water and bask by floating on the surface with only their carapaces exposed. Here, in the northern part of their range, they may also bask on fallen logs, especially during the spring.

They are most active at dawn and dusk. While they are known for their snap, when snapping turtles are encountered in the water, they are docile and will most likely slip quietly away. Occasionally a snapping turtle will approach a human in the water out of curiosity, but rarely aggressively.

snapping turtle on edge of road

She put up a fight, but this snapping turtle was successfully helped across a busy road.

From late May until early July, female snapping turtles travel to find sandy soil in which to lay their eggs, often some distance from the water, which is when you are most likely to encounter one on land. Walking is awkward for these water dwellers, and they tend to react defensively when approached. Unfortunately, their travels often take them across roads where they may be hit by cars. The snapping turtle’s defensiveness makes it harder to help them cross or to aid them when injured, but it can be done.

In the summer of 2021 we had a record number of injured snapping turtle intakes. We are happy that we could care for so many, but we could not do it without compassionate people to bring them to us. We appreciate those who are willing to help injured snapping turtles and have included instructions for handling them on our injured turtle response page.

Snapping Turtle Summer

The wildlife rehabilitation arm of our organization has never been as busy as we are this summer, and we have never had as many snapping turtles as we have currently. Snapping turtles can, of course, be a bit more challenging to care for than other turtle species, but we love them.

a snapping turtle with first aid cream on its shell, head lifted looking at camera

Small snapping turtle George is one of this springs intakes with head trauma.

Snapping turtles have a bad reputation due to their orneriness when they are out of water, but most of the time you might swim right by one without ever knowing they were there. If you look, you might see one half buried in the mud at the bottom of a creek or floating in a lake catching some rays on a sunny day. They have excellent camouflage, though, so they are not so easily spotted.

Snapping turtles are like all freshwater turtles and lay their eggs on land. To do so, they frequently must cross roads and are often the victims of careless drivers. Because their anatomy is different than a “typical” turtle in that they are unable to tuck their heads into their shells, when a car approaches, they tend to snap at it. As a result, many snapping turtles that come into rehabilitation arrive with some type of head injury. We can medicate to reduce pain and inflammation but, like human concussions, head trauma heals slowly even when not complicated by superficial facial wounds.

Snapping turtles frequently require long-term care and always need significantly larger housing than their smaller cousins. We are grateful for the contributions of 100-gallon stock tanks we have received this year. We were able to help more snapping turtles because we had them.

Because the wounds have larger surface areas, we go through first aid supplies quickly. Our supporters have gifted many items off of our Amazon wishlist this year, which has been amazing. Thank you so much for your donations! They are getting us through this snapping turtle summer.