Snapping Turtles: Diet & Habitat

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

What do snapping turtles eat? In this lesson, we will answer that question. You'll also learn about the habitats and geographic ranges of both species of snapping turtle.

Lying in Wait

How do turtles attract food? You might be thinking, do they need to? While it is true that many turtle species only eat plants, not all of them are herbivores. For example, there are two omnivorous species of snapping turtle: the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). If they want to catch their next meal, these slow-moving turtles have to be strategic.

So, when attracting their prey, snapping turtles use an interesting and effective method. They bury themselves in the mud and wait for prey to come along. Then, they quickly reach out and snatch it. This is known as the ambush method of hunting.

Alligator snapping turtles also have another trick up their sleeves. Their tongues have small knobs on the end that resemble worms. The turtles wiggle their tongues around in the water to attract fish, then strike when an unlucky fish swims closer to investigate.

Alligator snapping turtles are one of two snapping turtle species.
Alligator snapping turtle

A Typical Meal

As mentioned above, snapping turtles are omnivores, which means their diet is split between plants and animals. Plants make up about one-third of their food, which they eat in massive amounts to support their large bodies. Common snapping turtles can be up to 40 pounds, and alligator snapping turtles can weigh 200 pounds or more!

The non-plant portion of their diet is quite varied. Snapping turtles eat insects, spiders, frogs, snakes, crayfish, and fish. They will even eat birds, other turtles, and small mammals. They can also act as scavengers, feeding off of dead animal remains.

The ambush method is the main method of hunting used by adults, but young snapping turtles will often chase and catch their prey without lying in wait.

Range and Habitat

Snapping turtles are only found in North America and northern Central America. Within these regions, the two species have slightly different geographic ranges. However, both species spend the majority of their time in the water and come onto land only to lay their eggs.

Common Snapping Turtles

Common snapping turtles are the more wide-ranging species, hence the name 'common.' They are found throughout the eastern and central portions of the United States, from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and into northern Central America. They can also be found in the western U.S. because they have been introduced there by humans.

Common snapping turtles prefer habitats with shallow, slow-moving water. This includes lakes, slow streams, marshes, swamps, and ponds. They also like areas with muddy or sandy bottoms where they can bury themselves. Though happiest in fresh water, snapping turtles can also live in brackish water, which is a mixture of salt and fresh water.

Common snapping turtles are more widespread than alligator snapping turtles.
Common snapping turtle

Alligator Snapping Turtles

Alligator snapping turtles are generally only found in the southeastern U.S. They live in the areas between northern Florida and Texas, which can include Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, and Tennessee. Sometimes they can even find themselves as far north as Iowa.

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