Turtle Power: The Mighty Snapping Turtle

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

Common snapping turtles are known for their bite, but like most animals they would rather avoid humans than bite them.

Photo courtesy of Paul Dacko

These turtles, one of 17 turtle species in Illinois, are big. They can weigh up to 35 pounds! Their shells can be 8 inches to 12 inches long, and their tails can be as long as their shells.


Many turtles like to sun themselves on land or above water, but not snapping turtles. These turtles only come out of the water to build nests and lay eggs.


Fun Facts


  • The common snapping turtle is one of two kinds of snapping turtles. The other is the alligator snapping turtle, and it is much bigger. Alligator snapping turtles can weigh up to 150 pounds!

  • All turtles, including snapping turtles, have shells on their backs and hard plates on their abdomens. The shell is also called a carapace, and the plate is called a plastron.

  • Turtles are the only animals in the world with a backbone and a shell. Turtles can feel pain and pressure through their shells, just as you feel pain or pressure through your fingernails.

  • We usually think of turtles as being mostly green. Snapping turtles can be green, but may also be brown or almost black.

  • Snapping turtles are omnivores, which means they eat plants and animals. They aren’t picky eaters. They eat fish, birds, small mammals and amphibians. They even eat other turtles, which they kill by biting off their heads. They also eat a lot of plants found in water.

  • When they reach adult size, snapping turtles do not have many predators. One of the biggest risks to these turtles is getting hit by cars.

  • Baby turtles are called hatchlings, because they hatch from eggs. Turtles are reptiles, and almost all reptiles are born from eggs. Almost all snapping turtle eggs are eaten by other animals before they hatch.

  • Most turtles can pull their head and legs into their shell for protection, but snapping turtles cannot. This is because the plate on their abdomen is small, which leaves their body exposed. Because they aren’t able to protect themselves like other turtles, they are aggressive when out of water.