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Snapping Turtles: Eggs, Lifespan & Reproduction Facts

Instructor: Lauren Posey

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

There are two species of snapping turtle, and they are very similar. In this lesson, we will take a look at facts related to the eggs, lifespan, and reproduction of both species.

To Hatch a Turtle

You're probably familiar with the way chicken eggs look. They're oval and often white or brown, right? Now imagine they were perfectly round and bright white instead. That's what turtle eggs look like! In fact, they look almost exactly like shiny ping-pong balls. This is true for the majority of turtle eggs, including snapping turtles.

There are two species of snapping turtle: the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) and the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). Both can be found in the United States, but alligator snapping turtles are restricted to the more southern and southeast region, while common snapping turtles are found throughout the US and parts of Canada. Aside from that, the two species are very similar. They both spend almost all their time in the water, except when they come on shore to lay their eggs.

Snapping turtle eggs closely resemble ping-pong balls
Snapping turtle laying eggs

Building a Nest

Snapping turtles build their nests in spring and summer, usually beginning around April. They dig their nests in dry, sandy areas and lay between 20 and 40 eggs. Sometimes they lay more than this, and they can even lay 100 eggs in a single nest! Once the eggs are laid the turtles cover them up with sand and head back to their pond or lake. Snapping turtles are not known for their mothering instincts.

The nests themselves are very vulnerable to predators, or animals that will dig up and eat the eggs or eat the babies after they hatch. In an average year, 80 percent or more of snapping turtle nests are destroyed by predators. That's why the turtles lay so many eggs. It increases the odds that at least a few babies will make it to adulthood.

Turtle Babies

Nests of common snapping turtles hatch after three to six months, depending on the weather. Alligator snapping turtles usually hatch after four to five months. In both cases, most nests are done hatching by the end of November. Interestingly, the temperature of the nest determines the gender of the baby turtles. Warmer nests will produce females, while cooler nests will produce males.

Once the babies hatch, they have to make it to the relative safety of the nearest water source, which is a dangerous task. Adult snapping turtles have almost no predators, but a wide variety of birds and other animals will eat the babies.

Baby snapping turtles look like tiny versions of the adults
Baby snapping turtle

Lifespan

Assuming they make it to adulthood, snapping turtles of both species have fairly long lives. Common snapping turtles typically live to be 30 years old in the wild, and up to 47 years old in captivity. Alligator snappers live even longer. Their wild life expectancy is around 45, and in captivity, they have lived to be 70 years old!

Interesting Reproduction Facts

Alligator snapping turtles are able to mate and lay eggs when they are 11 to 13 years old. Common snapping turtles vary pretty significantly in their maturation by location, however. They can reach maturity anywhere from eight to 20 years old, depending on where they live. For example, common snapping turtles in Ontario reach maturity later than common snapping turtles in Iowa.

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