The snapping turtle is the Western Hemisphere’s second largest fresh water turtle (following the alligator snapping turtle). The largest to date weighed 86 pounds, but rumors of 100 pound plus individuals persist.
The scientific species name, “serpentina”, refers to the long, snake-like neck and explosive strike. They avoid people in water, but bite viciously when disturbed, especially if on land.
This species is trapped and bred on farms for its meat, which is served in restaurants both here and abroad.
Snapping turtles are, as far as we know, the most cold tolerant of all turtles – in temperate areas they hibernate, but can sometimes be seen swimming below the ice on sunny days in winter. I have observed individuals basking in late January in NYC.
The alligator snapping turtle, Macroclemmys temmincki, a relative, is one of the world’s largest freshwater turtles, topping 200 pounds in weight. Native to the southeastern United States (occasionally ranging north to southern Illinois), its numbers are in sharp decline due to over-collection and habitat loss. An individual I cared for at the Bronx Zoo was 206 pounds at last weighing, and larger animals are known.