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The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.




Chelydra serpentina
Chelydra serpentina
(Snapping Turtle)
Reptiles-Turtles
Native Transplant
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Chelydra serpentina (Linnaeus, 1758)

Common name: Snapping Turtle

Synonyms and Other Names: common snapping turtle, snapper, tortuga lagarto.

The taxonomy of C. serpentina has been reviewed or summarized by several authors (Ernst et al., 1988, 1994; Gibbons et al., 1988; King and Burke, 1989; Iverson et al., 2000).  Several authors have discussed the taxonomic status of the subspecies of snapping turtles, even suggesting recognizing the currently described subspecies as full species as few intergrades exist between them (reviewed by King and Burke, 1989; Ernst et al., 1994).  Iverson et al. (2000) now recommend using the standard English name "snapping turtle" rather than "common snapping turtle" as the latter implies that these turtles are abundant rather than having a broad range.  A variety of other vernacular names exist for C. serpentina in other countries and have been summarized by Mittermeier et al. (1980) and Liner (1994).  Scientific and standard English names follow Crother (2008).

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Chelydra serpentina is a robust turtle with a carapace (upper shell) length of 203-494 mm (8-over 19 in) (Ernst et al., 1994; Conant and Collins, 1998).  The maximum weight, measured for an individual in captivity, is 39 kg (86 lbs) (Conant and Collins, 1998).  The posterior edge of the carapace is serrated and, unlike Macrochelys temminckii (Alligator Snapping Turtle), any projections on the dorsal scutes (shields or laminae) do not form keeled ridges, and there is only a single row of marginal scutes (Conant and Collins, 1998; Powell et al., 1998).  The plastron (lower shell) is greatly reduced in size (Conant and Collins, 1998).  The tail is very long, as long as or longer than the carapace, and only has a single series of elongate dorsal scales, giving it a saw-toothed appearance (Ernst et al., 1994; Conant and Collins, 1998; Powell et al., 1998).  Compare this description to the species account titled "Macrochelys temminckii (Troost in Harlan, 1835)" on this website.  Juvenile snapping turtles are darker, almost black, and tend to have a more rugose carapace than adults (Conant and Collins, 1998).

Unlike the Eastern Snapping Turtle, C. s. osceola tends to have longer, more pointed tubercles on the neck (Ernst et al., 1994; Conant and Collins, 1998).  Snapping turtles have been widely illustrated by numerous authors (Babcock, 1919; Carr, 1952; Smith, 1961; Wheeler and Wheeler, 1966; Ernst and Barbour, 1972, 1989; Stebbins, 1972, 1985; Mount, 1975; Lazell, 1976; Behler and King, 1979; Pritchard, 1979; Smith and Smith, 1979; Baxter and Stone, 1980; Martof et al., 1980; Caldwell and Collins, 1981; Vogt, 1981; Smith and Brodie, 1982; DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983; Cook, 1984; Gilhen, 1984; Obst, 1986; Garrett and Barker, 1987; Green and Pauley, 1987; Alderton, 1988; Christiansen and Bailey, 1988; Gibbons et al., 1988; Dundee and Rossman, 1989; Harding and Holman, 1990; Ashton and Ashton, 1991; Carmichael and Williams, 1991; Collins, 1993; Collins and Collins, 1993; Klemens, 1993; Ernst et al., 1994; Mitchell and Anderson, 1994; Oldfield and Moriarty, 1994; Brown et al., 1995; Palmer and Braswell, 1995; Degenhardt et al., 1996; Campbell, 1998; Conant and Collins, 1998; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999a, b; Behler, 1999; Coulter, 1999; Hammerson, 1999; Phillips et al., 1999; Johnson, 2000; Hulse et al., 2001; Minton, 2001).

Two weakly defined subspecies (geographic races) occur in the United States (Gibbons et al., 1988; Conant and Collins, 1998; Iverson et al., 2000)- Chelydra serpentina serpentina (Linnaeus, 1758), the Eastern Snapping Turtle, and C. s. osceola Stejneger, 1918, the Florida Snapping Turtle.

Size: 203 - 494 mm carapace length on average

Native Range: Chelydra serpentina is a widely distributed turtle; its indigenous range encompasses the entire eastern and central United States from southern Canada, including Nova Scotia (Gilhen, 1984), and southern and eastern Maine (Smith, 1961; Wheeler and Wheeler, 1966; Webb, 1970; Lazell, 1976; Vogt, 1981; DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983; Cook, 1984; Lynch, 1985; Green and Pauley, 1987; Christiansen and Bailey, 1988; Gibbons et al., 1988; [Sievert] and Sievert, [1988]; Carpenter and Krupa, 1989; Harding and Holman, 1990; Collins, 1993; Collins and Collins, 1993; Klemens, 1993; Mitchell, 1994; Mitchell and Anderson, 1994; Oldfield and Moriarty, 1994; Casper, 1996; Conant and Collins, 1998; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999a, b; Coulter, 1999; Phillips et al., 1999; Ballinger et al., 2000; Johnson, 2000; Hulse et al., 2001; Minton, 2001), southward to the Gulf of Mexico (Martof, 1956; Mount, 1975; Stevenson, 1976; Martof et al., 1980; Lohoefener and Altig, 1983; Garrett and Barker, 1987; Alderton, 1988; Moler, 1988; Dundee and Rossman, 1989; Ashton and Ashton, 1991; Carmichael and Williams, 1991; Gibbons and Semlitsch, 1991; Palmer and Braswell, 1995; Conant and Collins, 1998; Dixon, 2000; King, 2000); from the Atlantic Coast westward to the base of the Rocky Mountains in central Montana, eastern Wyoming, eastern Colorado, and eastern New Mexico (Baxter and Stone, 1980; Stebbins, 1985; Iverson, 1992; Ernst et al., 1994; Stuart, 1995; Degenhardt et al., 1996; Conant and Collins, 1998; Hammerson, 1999).  Snapping turtles found in peninsular Florida and extreme south-central Georgia are generally considered C. s. osceola (Gibbons et al., 1988; Conant and Collins, 1998). 

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
Alaska auto-generated map
Alaska
Hawaii auto-generated map
Hawaii
Caribbean auto-generated map
Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
Guam auto-generated map
Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Chelydra serpentina are found here.

StateYear of earliest observationYear of last observationTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
Arizona198020061Lower Salt
California1967201516Antelope-Fremont Valleys; California Region; Central Coastal; Coyote; Lower Sacramento; San Diego; San Gabriel; San Luis Rey-Escondido; San Pablo Bay; Santa Barbara Coastal; Santa Clara; Seal Beach; Suisun Bay; Upper Cache; Upper Dry; Upper Poso
Colorado199819981Colorado Headwaters-Plateau
Florida201320131Florida Bay-Florida Keys
Guam199719981Guam
Idaho200920111Lower Boise
Nevada191519852Carson Desert; Diamond-Monitor Valleys
New Mexico197819941Rio Grande-Albuquerque
Oregon199320116Coos; Lower Columbia-Sandy; Lower Willamette; South Umpqua; Tualatin; Upper Willamette
Puerto Rico200620061Greater Antilles
Utah198519992Fort Pearce Wash; Jordan
Washington199519992Lake Washington; Nisqually

Table last updated 5/25/2018

† Populations may not be currently present.


Ecology: Reviews of the literature, natural history, and physiology of C. serpentina have been summarized by Babcock (1919), Gibbons et al. (1988), Gibbons and Semlitsch (1991), and Ernst et al. (1994).

Chelydra serpentina is an adaptable, highly aquatic turtle that inhabits almost any body of water (including brackish), rarely basks, but will foray over land (Babcock, 1919; Gibbons and Semlitsch, 1991; Ernst et al. 1994).

The Snapping Turtle is a generalized omnivore; any invertebrate, vertebrate, aquatic plant, or carrion they can grab and swallow, will be consumed (Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Ernst et al. 1994). In northern regions it has a high tolerance to cold and occasionally can be seen crawling beneath ice in winter (Ernst et al. 1994). Female C. serpentina lay 6–104 eggs in soil, rotting vegetation, sawdust piles, or muskrat and beaver lodges, during spring or summer (Ernst et al. 1994).

Means of Introduction: The means by which C. serpentina were introduced to most localities remains unknown but pet releases seem most probable (Bury and Luckenbach, 1976; Beebee and Griffiths, 2000).  The introduction of snapping turtles to British Columbia, Canada, was intentional (Gregory and Campbell, 1984).  Intentional introductions for aquaculture cannot be ruled out in some of the localities reported herein.

Status: Various C. serpentina collected in Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, at first did not seem to represent an established population (Hulse, 1980); however, recent evidence indicates they are established (Howland, 1996; M. Demlong, personal communication 1997).

In California, C. serpentina are established in Fresno, Fresno County, and Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County (Stebbins, 1972, 1985; Smith and Kohler, 1978), and within the Guadalupe River watershed, Santa Clara County (J. Abel, personal communication 2001).  The high incidence of sightings and specimens coming from other localities suggest that the establishment of C. serpentina in California is more widespread (Bury and Luckenbach, 1976; Laudenslayer et al., 1991) and its status requires further study.  They are probably established in the Colorado River.  The snapping turtle seems to be an invasive species in California and, perhaps, the other Pacific states.

The Snapping Turtle from Mesa County, Colorado, was collected, and not indicative of an established population (Livo et al., 1998). 

The status of individuals collected in Nevada and Utah remains uncertain (Stebbins, 1985). Probably not established in Puerto Rico.

The Snapping Turtles found in the Rio Grande drainage of central New Mexico are established; however, it has not been determined if these were indigenous turtles that went undiscovered until the 1980s or, more probably, they represent nonindigenous turtles that are gradually dispersing through this drainage (Stuart, 1995, 2000; Degenhardt et al., 1996).

The status of Snapping Turtles in Washington and Oregon remains unclear but the frequency of sightings, captures, and observation of a nesting female at Sandpoint, Seattle (Brown et al., 1995), suggest that scattered colonies are probably established in these two Pacific states.  Intensive updated surveys should be conducted to verify the status of C.serpentina throughout the Pacific states and other western states.  The nonindigenous occurrences of established populations of snapping turtles throughout the western U.S. are probably more extensive than what are reflected on this webpage.

In British Columbia, Canada, one C. serpentina (presumably of the six introduced in 1913) was collected near Steveston, west of Woodward's Landing 10 years later, but no modern evidence of an established, reproducing colony has ever been verified (Gregory and Campbell, 1984).

There do not seem to be reproducing colonies of C. serpentina (yet) in the United Kingdom (Beebee and Griffiths, 2000).

Impact of Introduction: The impact C. serpentina is unknown.

Remarks: A considerable amount of research has been performed on the physiological ecology of snapping turtle eggs, embryos, and nests, and best reviewed by Packard and Packard (1988), Ernst et al. (1994), and Rimkus et al. (2002).  Snapping turtles derive their common English name from their violent antipredator behavior which involves snapping at an adversary while quickly lunging forward and extending its neck, potentially delivering a painful, damaging wound (Ernst et al., 1994; Oldfield and Moriarty, 1994; Hammerson, 1999).  This vigorous defense is exhibited out of water and does not seem to be used while submerged (Vogt, 1981).  These turtles also are capable of aggression toward conspecifics and Klemens (1993) has provided some rather dramatic photos of two males locked in combat.

Chelydra serpentina is commonly harvested for commercial exploitation, especially for food (Christiansen and Bailey, 1988; Pough et al., 2001).

Two weakly defined subspecies (geographic races) occur in the United States (Gibbons et al., 1988; Conant and Collins, 1998; Iverson et al., 2000)- Chelydra serpentina serpentina (Linnaeus, 1758), the Eastern Snapping Turtle, and C. s. osceola Stejneger, 1918, the Florida Snapping Turtle.

References: (click for full references)

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Author: Fuller, P., Foster, A., and Somma, L.A.

Revision Date: 1/30/2015

Citation Information:
Fuller, P., Foster, A., and Somma, L.A., 2018, Chelydra serpentina (Linnaeus, 1758): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=1225, Revision Date: 1/30/2015, Access Date: 5/26/2018

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

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URL: https://nas.er.usgs.gov
Page Contact Information: Pam Fuller - NAS Program (pfuller@usgs.gov)
Page Last Modified: Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Disclaimer:

The data represented on this site vary in accuracy, scale, completeness, extent of coverage and origin. It is the user's responsibility to use these data consistent with their intended purpose and within stated limitations. We highly recommend reviewing metadata files prior to interpreting these data.

Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [5/26/2018].

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