What Do Snapping Turtles Look Like?

Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Snapping turtles prefer to inhabit the muddy ponds, lakes and rivers throughout much of the United States. They spend most of their time in the water, but come ashore during June and July to lay their eggs. It is best to avoid contact with these turtles, as they have been known to attack humans. Two species of snapping turtles exist: the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle.

Skin and Shell Color

The shell of a snapping turtle can be brown, tan or olive green. Young snapping turtles showcase light brown shells. The color of their skin varies and is frequently yellow, brown, rusty orange or slightly red. Factors believed to affect skin color include diet, water quality and soil type. The throat, tail and limbs exhibit the most prominent skin pigmentation. Snapping turtles blend in with the environment. Algae frequently grows on their shell and the skin is usually saturated with mud.

Size Varies

Female common snapping turtles average 9.5 to 14.5 inches in length, with a shell size of 11 inches. Males are slightly larger at 9.5 to 15.5 inches with a shell size of 13.3 inches. Most common snapping turtles weigh between 35 and 45 pounds. They can grow as large as 18.5 inches in length and weigh up to 85 pounds. Freshly-hatched common snapping turtles are the size of a quarter. By 10 years of age, they are 7 inches long. At 25 years of age they average 11 inches in length. The alligator snapping turtle averages 15 to 26 inches in length and weighs between 35 and 150 pounds. Snapping turtles possess small shells, prohibiting them from tucking their head and limbs inside the shell if frightened or threatened.

Impressive Skills and Appearance

Snapping turtles possess powerful jaws that are yellow or cream in color. They do not have teeth, which is why they snap viciously at prey. Their neck is thick and can extend half the length of their body. A snapping turtle’s eyes are located on the side of his head. The eyes exhibit a pattern of black spots, resembling the shape of a cross. Alligator snapping turtles have thick, fleshy eyelashes, which are not found on the common snapping turtle. The alligator snapping turtle’s head is triangular, while the common snapping turtle has an oval-shaped head.

A Solid Build

Snapping turtles have webbed feet. The two front feet showcase five razor sharp nails and the back feet have four nails. In larger turtles, the feet can be the size of human hands. Legs are robust, solid and covered with scaly skin. Tails are long with a saw-like appearance. The shell of the alligator snapping turtle has three distinct ridges, which are most visible in young turtles. Common snapping turtles possess a smoother shell.

Photo Credits

  • Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images