Uncovering The Amazing Unique Traits, Facts And FAQs About These Cute & Curious Little Snappers
Baby snapping turtles get a bit of a bad reputation for taking the fingers off their handlers, but this is nothing but a myth. As babies, similarly to other types of turtle their mission from their very first breath is to get out of their egg and nest and into the water.
They pick up all the skills they need to survive by themselves. They are an ancient animal that look like they have no business being on land, but don’t look like natural swimmers either.
They are freshwater and brackish water animals but share many things in common with their seafaring turtle cousins. Despite their similarities, they are a unique species and have many interesting features of their own.
In this post, we take a look at a series of facts about baby snapping turtles, as well as offer answers to many frequently asked questions about these fresh water wonders.
7 Baby Snapping Turtle Facts
Baby Snapping Turtles Are Called Hatchlings
Like other baby turtles, or baby alligators, baby snapping turtles are called ‘hatchlings‘. This is true for many animals that are born from eggs, including many birds like baby turkeys, or reptiles like baby bearded dragons or baby chameleons.
Mothers don’t incubate their eggs, but rather they dig out a ‘nest‘ in warm, dry sand and burry their ‘clutch‘ of eggs there.
As they mature, adult snapping turtles, like other species of turtle are just known as male or female, there is no specific term used to distinguish between genders. Collective nouns used to describe baby snapping turtles include a ‘flotilla‘ of baby turtles and a ‘bale‘ of baby turtles, though the latter can also be used to describe a group of snapping turtles of any age.
Baby Snapping Turtles Are Abandoned In Their Nest
Like their sea turtle cousins, baby snapping turtles are abandoned by their mothers as soon as they are covered in their nest. The female digs out a nest in the warm sandy bank of her pond, lake or riverside, then lays a clutch of eggs that is usually between 20-40 eggs big. They can deposit double this amount of eggs in the right circumstances, but this is the average.
Once the eggs are deposited in the nest, the mother will bury the eggs in sand and return to the water. That is the last thing she will do for her babies. Like most reptiles, snapping turtles have no maternal instincts whatsoever once the eggs are laid.
Baby Snapping Turtles Don’t Bite As Bad As You Think…..Usually!
There are lots of urban legends floating around about these little critters, and how they can take a finger off here and there. All the ‘my mate’s uncle lost a finger’ rumours are mostly tall tales however. Mostly.
They can still do significant damage with a bite, but in most cases their jaw strength is no greater than that of a human jaw. The pressure exerted doesn’t increase by that much as they grow up, and most of these snapping turtles remain relatively small – with a shell less than 50 cm across.
The exception here is the alligator snapping turtle. These are the largest snapping turtles by far, and as adults, they can exert a jaw strength of up to 450 kg. That is strong enough to leave a nasty bite! They are also Americas largest freshwater turtle, and it’s best to avoid them when they become adults
They can’t fit their heads inside their shells to protect them, so they will lunge and bite instead and it can be very painful.
Baby Snapping Turtles Don’t Have Lost Years Like Sea Turtles
While very little is known about sea turtles between the time they reach the water and head out to open sea, and when they return to shore for mating, that problem doesn’t exist with snapping turtles. These are freshwater turtles, and tend to reside in ponds and lakes where it is easier to track and observe their movements and behaviours.
Unlike their sea water cousins, they don’t all make a run for the water together. Once they are out of their nest, baby snappers become the solitary animals that they will remain to be for the rest of their lives. Only coming together for mating.
When baby snapping turtles make it into the water, they don’t swim out into the ocean. They don’t get ‘lost to science’ at sea for many years, but there is still very much for us to learn about these amazing animals.
Baby Snapping Turtles Sex Is Determined By Temperature
As with some other reptiles that start their life in eggs, such as baby crocodiles or baby alligators, the sex that a turtle will have at birth is influenced by temperature during the incubation period. This is known as temperature-dependent sex determination, or TSD. Some other fish and lizards are also effected this way.
Where intermediate egg incubation temperatures are between 23-27 degrees Celsius, hatchlings will be male. Where temperatures are below 22 or above 28 degrees Celsius then females are usually born.
While temperature does effect the sex of baby snapping turtles, it does not impact the timing of their hatching. It neither accelerates or decelerates how long they incubate.
Snapping Turtle Babies Are At Their Most Vulnerable Before Hatching
Before they hatch, snapper turtle nests are susceptible to predation by several animals. Additionally, the newly-hatched little ones remain vulnerable, especially until they reach the water. Even then, they are at a greater risk until they start to develop in size.
As adults though, these turtles have fewer predators; however roads still pose a serious hazard when adult turtles migrate during nesting and breeding season.
Baby Snapping Turtles Live Long Lives
Most snapping turtles are capable of living up to 30 years, though when kept in captivity they can reach almost 50!
Alligator snapping turtles can, and often do, live much longer than this. They are known to live to 100, and in some rare cases, much older than this. The oldest ever snapping turtle was an individual male named Thunder, who was estimated to be 150 years old when he died in 2016!
Baby Snapping Turtle FAQs
How Many Baby Snapping Turtles Are Born In A Litter?
The average snapping turtle clutch has around 20-40 eggs, though some species average higher than others. They are capable of laying over 100 eggs, but it’s not common. Of the eggs that are laid, around 90% of them will hatch as long as the nest is not disturbed, or found by a predator.
If a nest is disturbed, the mortality rate drops to around 50%, but it varies depending on how far into the incubation period, and the temperature maintained through the disturbance.
Do Baby Snapping Turtles Have Teeth?
No, baby snapping turtles do not have teeth, except the egg tooth that they use to break free from their shell. Instead, they have a type of beak and strong jaw muscles.
What Do Baby Snapping Turtles Eat?
Young snapping turtles are fairly flexible with their diet, but are particularly fond of consuming earthworms, minnows and tadpoles. As they age, frogs (even baby frogs) and infant mice become staple meals in their diet as well. They have a special liking for tiny fish, reptiles and aquatic insects too!
How Quick Do Baby Snapping Turtles Grow?
The time it takes to grow and the size they will reach depends on the species of snapping turtle.
From the time it hatches, a common snapping turtle will grow to an average size of 12-15 cm (5-6 inches) within two years. In the following 15-20 year period, its shell length may increase by another 30-35 cm (12 -14 inches).
The Central American And South American snapping turtles have similar rates of growth.
Baby alligator snapping turtles grow at a rate of between 1 – 2 inches per year at first. The rate does slow after the age of around 5, but they will continue to grow their entire lives.
Where Do Baby Snapping Turtles Live?
There are two genera and four species of snapping turtle, and they all have their own habitats.
The Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) – The alligator snapping turtle is an exclusive inhabitant of the United States, found in a range that spans from northern Florida to eastern Texas and even as far north as Iowa.
The Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) – The common snapping turtle’s habitat naturally expands from southeastern Canada all the way to the Rocky Mountains, Nova Scotia and even Florida.
The South American Snapping Turtle (Chelydra acutirostris) – This species is found in Central and north-western South America,
The Central American Snapping Turtle (Chelydra rossignonii) – This species is found in Central America and Mexico.
In all cases, the slow-moving waters of lakes, ponds and streams are the preferred, perfect habitat for baby snapping turtle hatchlings. They seek solace in the lush vegetation on the banks, finding comfort in its murky depths.
Natural Predators Of Baby Snapping Turtles
Baby snapping turtles at their most vulnerable when they are still in their eggs or when they are newly hatched. On land, there are far more risks and if a nest is discovered it is game over. They are often preyed upon by several animals before they hatch, including raccoons, foxes, skunks, coyotes, dogs, cats and many birds of prey including herons, hawks and owls.
Additionally, the newly-hatched little ones remain vulnerable until they reach the water. Even then, they are at risk from some fish and snakes until they start to develop in size.