Snapping turtles are fascinating

People speculate how both gangsters and snapping turtles cut off people's fingers, so when the Dickinson County Nature Center got a baby snapping turtle as an animal ambassador, it was named Capone after the legendary gangster Al Capone.

Common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are the largest turtles in Iowa, and they are quite fascinating creatures.

A snapping turtle can't hide in its shell.

Unlike most turtles, common snapping turtles can't hide in their shells. Most turtles can pull the head and legs into the shell to protect themselves from predators, and some species, like Blanding's turtles and ornate box turtles, have a hinged lower shell that can actually move upward and totally enclose the head and front legs. A snapping turtle's plastron --- the lower shell --- is only big enough to barely cover the body. It can retreat slightly underneath the carapace --- the upper shell --- but not anywhere near how a typical turtle can.

the underside of a baby snapping turtle

Photo by Jarek Tuszynski, via Wikimedia Commons

(7 things Teddy the ornate box turtle wants you to know about him)

Perhaps that is why snapping turtles are more aggressive than a regular turtle, because they can't just retreat from predators but have to fight them off.

Snapping turtles have few predators as adults.

As full-grown turtles, snappers have one main predator --- humans. Snapping turtles are harvested for meat, and restrictions were introduced in Iowa to protect the species from overharvest.

Snapping turtles eggs and hatchlings have a variety of predators. Female snapping turtles will lay 25-50 eggs in spring and/or fall, but 60-100 percent of eggs are dug up by predators and eaten. However, snapping turtles can live up to 30 years, so only a small number of hatchlings need to survive each year for the species to live on.

Snapping turtles themselves are slow predators.

Common snapping turtles are not fast at catching food, so they will eat pretty much anything they can, including dead animals, aquatic invertebrates, aquatic plants, small fish, frogs, tadpoles, snails, leaches and even baby ducks and goslings. Small prey are swallowed whole, larger prey can be torn apart with their claws and swallowed.

common snapping turtle

Most aquatic turtles, like snapping turtles, have a tongue that is fixed and can't move food around in the mouth. They have to eat underwater in order for the food to move around and be chewed.

(Five facts about painted turtles)

Common turtles are often lumped in with alligator snappers.

Common snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles look a lot alike with their spiked shells, long tails and beaked mouths. However, alligator snapping turtles are much larger than common snappers. Alligator snappers can grow up to 39 inches in length, and a common snapping turtle's carapace --- top shell --- grows up to 14 inches. Alligator snapping turtles can weigh up to 176 pounds, while common snappers weigh up to 45 pounds.

alligator snapping turtle

Alligator snapping turtles have a tongue that is shaped like a worm, and they use that to lure in prey while a common snapping turtle has a normal tongue.

Alligator snapping turtles may be found as far north as southeast Iowa, but they are not considered a resident of the state.

Their bites are bad, but their beaks are worse.

A common snapping turtle has a bite strength of up to 656.81 newtons of force, although a typical bite is around 209 newtons. However, a human can also apply 1,300 newtons of force between the second molars.

Bites are severe because of the sharp beak that is designed to help tear meat apart.

Want to find out more about turtles? Learn how to tell apart some common species of Iowa turtles here.

Button turtle

People love to spot turtles in the wild. Snapping turtles, painted turtles, softshell turtles — it is so fun getting to see these truly unique creatures. Let’s celebrate turtles right at home by making a button turtle craft. You’ll need:A printed templateColored pencils, crayons or markersButtonsGlue Print out our button turtle template, and color it Read More »

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Animal ambassador conservationists: Theodore Roosevelt

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Painted and snapping turtles survive winter underwater

We see many types of turtles roaming around northwest Iowa in the summertime, especially painted turtles and snapping turtles. But we don’t see any in the winter. Where do they all go? Painted turtles and snapping turtles spend their winters in lakes or ponds, living beneath the ice the forms. They survive because of a Read More »

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Turtle finger puppet template

Turtle or tortoise — they’re different creatures, but you can make this fun finger puppet into whichever you would like. Otherwise, you can use your imagination and make your own distinctive turtle! Make it pink. Make it sparkly. Make it your own. First, start off by printing off the free turtle finger puppet template onto Read More »

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Turtle or tortoise? What’s the difference?

We had someone comment that Teddy the box turtle looked unhappy because he wasn’t in water. However, he’s a terrestrial turtle, so his kind lives the majority of their lives on land and not in the water. Yet, he isn’t a tortoise. Some people in Florida released tortoise hatchlings into the ocean. However, they aren’t Read More »

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were originally inspired by red-eared sliders

Red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta) are found throughout the United States, but that hasn’t always been the case. These aquatic turtles are natively found in the southeastern United States from Texas to Alabama north to southern Ohio and into Kansas. Their native watersheds may have even extended into Iowa. Red-eared sliders gained popularity in the Read More »

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Five facts you probably didn’t know about painted turtles

Annie and Jeff loved the Dickinson County Nature Center. But they’re not visitors. They don’t even work here. Actually, they live here! That’s because, even though they have human-like names, Annie and Jeff are the nature center’s painted turtles (Chrysemys picta.) Everyone loves checking out our painted turtles, so here are some fun facts about Read More »

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7 things Teddy the ornate box turtle wants you to know about him

When kids who have been to the nature center before return, many of them beeline to see Teddy the ornate box turtle. (Teddy has some lessons for us to learn in this video.) But how much do you really know about the ornate box turtle (terrapene ornata ornata)? Long live Teddy. Ornate box turtles have an Read More »

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What does Teddy the Turtle eat?

Teddy — named after conservationist former President Theodore Roosevelt — is an ornate box turtle. That means he is an omnivore and will eat both plants and animals, just like humans! See naturalist Ashley Hansen feed Teddy and learn what his favorite foods are in this video! You can also see more Teddy videos on Read More »

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Craft of the week: Turtle Prints

  For Nature Tots last week, the theme was Turtle Power! To celebrate our reptile friends, we decorated our own turtle shells using our thumbprints, and this is a great and easy activity you can do with your little ones at home. Start out by drawing a large turtle on your sheet of paper. (Watch: Read More »

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