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Snapping Turtle

(Chelydra serpentina)


Identification: Shell hard, often with attached mud or algae; rear edge of upper shell saw-toothed; tail as long as or longer than upper shell, with crest of large bony scales; head large, with hooked jaws; lower shell relatively small, composed of nine shields; limbs strong, with webbed toes and powerful claws; upper shell up to nearly 50 cm (20 inches) long, usually less than 36 cm (14 inches).  

Adult: upper shell relatively smooth, lengthwise ridges not very prominent.  

Mature male: anal opening farther from base of tail than in female, usually beyond rear edge of upper shell (under rear edge in female); grows larger than female.   


Juvenile: Upper shell with three longitudinal ridges.

Hatchling: Upper shell rough, with conspicuous ridges, cryptically resembling a dead cottonwood leaf.

Colorado Distribution: Lowlands of eastern Colorado. Fairly common.  

View the distribution of observed Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) on a map

Habitat: Usually in permanent streams, ponds, lakes, and reservoirs; sometimes in temporary ponds and pools along intermittent streams.    

Life History: Nests in open areas up to several hundred yards from water, often after soaking rains soften the soil, mostly from late May to early July (peak in June). Hatchlings generally emerge from nests in late summer and early fall.  

Note: This turtle has strong jaws that can inflict a painful, lacerating bite .


Revised: July 24, 2003