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Wild About Illinois Turtles! - Family Chelydridae

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snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) Photo © Dr. E. O. Moll

The snapping turtle is eight to 12 inches long and weighs 10 to 35 pounds. It has an enormous head, thick legs and a long tail which is saw-toothed on the upper side. The carapace (top of shell) has three weak keels (ridges) that often have algae growing on them. The plastron (bottom of shell) is small. This turtle is unable to withdraw completely into its shell. The young turtle is black with some gray or olive spots. The adult is olive, gray or black.
This turtle is found statewide in any permanent body of water. Although aquatic, this species is often encountered on land as it migrates from one body of water to another. The animal is very aggressive out of water and will attempt to bite. In water, it is calmer. It spends much of its time on the bottom of a water body waiting for prey items to come close. It buries itself in the mud in winter, often near other snapping turtles. The mating season lasts from April through November, although most mating occurs in late spring. The female digs a nest in soil in early June and deposits 20 to 30 eggs. Eggs hatch in September and October. The snapping turtle eats most anything it can catch and swallow, including insects, crayfish, fishes, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. It also does some scavenging and eats vegetation.

alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii)** Photo © Dr. E. O. Moll
An average-sized alligator snapping turtle is 15 to 26 inches long and weighs 35 to 150 pounds. It has three rows of scutes (ridges) on the carapace (top of the shell). Its head is very large and has a hooked beak. A long tail is another feature. This turtle cannot withdraw completely into its shell.
This turtle is found in permanent water bodies in the southern one-third of the state and in the Illinois, Mississippi, Wabash and Ohio rivers. The alligator snapping turtle sits on the bottom of a body of water with its mouth open waiting on prey to come near. The mouth has a pink "lure" that may be wiggled to attract fish. It is active at night. It rarely swims, preferring to walk on the bottom. Alligator snapping turtles do not become mature until they are at least 11 years old. Mating may occur at any time when the turtles are active but is most likely in late spring. The female deposits eggs in a nest in soil in late spring or early summer. The number of eggs laid depends on the size of the female, with over 50 eggs possible. Hatching occurs in late summer. This turtle primarily eats fishes but will take other species that come too close to its powerful jaws.
* = threatened in Illinois
** = endangered in Illinois