Florida is home to just two species of snapping turtles. While these big reptiles may look dangerous and have a fearsome reputation, they aren’t really as dangerous as they seem. In fact, just like most animals, they merely want to be left alone. Keep reading to learn about the types of snapping turtles in Florida.
Snapping Turtles in Florida
The 2 species of snapping turtles in Florida are the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle. According to Wikipedia there was a third species that once lived in Florida, Chelydra serpentina osceola, but it is now extinct.
1. Common Snapping Turtle
Species name: Chelydra serpentina
This big turtles are named for their razor sharp beak and jaws, which they snap together both when feeding and in self defense. When pulled out of the water, their can be aggressive and will try to bite. Left alone in the water, though, they tend to avoid human contact.
These are big, muscular turtles that can weigh up to 35 pounds. They’re usually a dull greenish borwn in color, which helps them hide in the water. They have round, smooth shells and big, muscular heads and necks. The beak is noticeably sharp and hooked, like a raptor’s.
They prefer shallow ponds and streams, where the water is calm. In the southern parts of their range they’re rarely seen out of the water, only occasionally letting the top of their carapace show above the surface to bask in the sun.
These turtles have a very large range, extending from Florida to Canada and from the Atlantic coast all the way to the Rocky Mountains.
Snapping turtles eat fish, frogs, reptiles, mammals, birds, and nearly anything else they can catch and swallow. They are omnivores, and will eat plant matter, but scavenging and feeding on live fish and other animals provides most of their nutritional needs.
2. Alligator snapping turtle
Species Name: Macrochelys temminckii
These are the largest and heaviest freshwater turtles in North America. Despite the name and similar behaviors, they actually aren’t closely related to the common snapping turtle. These turtles are top predators in their environment.
They have distinct rows of spikes and raised plates on their carapace, which is reminiscent of alligator skin or even the armor plating on dinosaurs like Ankylosaurus. It certainly gives them an ancient and intimidating appearance.
Often their shell is covered by algae, because they tend to sit still in the water for long lengths of time. Their heads are massive and triangular, with large, sharp, powerful jaws. These turtles are huge, with adults commonly weighing over 200 pounds. The largest alligator snapping turtle on record weighed in at over 400 pounds.
The inside of their mouth is camouflaged, and their tongue is shaped like a worm. They use it to lure fish right into their jaws, so they don’t have to chase them. They also have a long tail (for a turtle), which sticks out from their shell.
Swamps, ponds, and slow moving rivers and creeks are their preferred habitat. Still, stagnant waters provide an ideal place for these enormous turtles to live.
They live in the southeastern United States, and in Florida they’re most common in the panhandle.
Fish are their main food, but they are opportunistic feeders and will eat nearly any meat they can get in their mouths. Unlike the common snapping turtle, the Alligator snapping turtle is almost entirely carnivorous. They’ll even eat small alligators.
Interesting Facts About Snapping Turtles
1. The two types of snapping turtles- common snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles, are not related.
2. Both species of snapping turtle are more than capable of removing human fingers in a single bite. However, there are no known instances of this happening with the common snapping turtle, and neither species is considered a threat to humans when they’re left alone in their habitat.
3. Both species of snapping turtle are considered invasive species in Europe, where they’ve been illegally imported as pets, and then illegally dumped in the wild.
4. Alligator snapping turtles are far bigger and more fearsome-looking than common snapping turtles, but they’re actually far less aggressive. Common snapping turtles almost always try to bite when handled, but alligator snapping turtles, especially larger one, tend to be more docile. That doesn’t mean you should try to handle them, though!
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Florida Snapping Turtle FAQ
How dangerous are snapping turtles?
They really aren’t dangerous at all unless you try to handle them. If you’ve ever been swimming in a river or lake in Florida, odds are you swam near snapping turtles. They don’t see humans as food or as predators, so as long as you aren’t trying to grab them and carry them around, they’ll leave you alone.
Can a snapping turtle bite off a finger?
Even the common snapping turtle has a powerful enough bite to take a finger off. An alligator snapping turtle can actually bite a broom handle in half. Fortunately, they aren’t going to bite you unless you’re trying to pick them up.
What if I find a snapping turtle in my yard?
Leave it alone. It won’t stick around for long. If it seems like it’s trapped and can’t find it’s way out of the yard, call animal control and they’ll use special turtle traps to remove it.
How long do snapping turtles live?
In the wild, snapping turtles can sometimes live for 40 years.
Has anyone ever been killed by a snapping turtle?
No human deaths have ever been caused by a snapping turtle. They may look scary, but they really just want to be left alone.
Will snapping turtles attack you in the water?
Snapping turtles will not attack you in the water. They only get defensive and bite on land, and even then only when you’re trying to pick them up.