Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 25, 2009

A Super Snapper

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 3:06 pm


Many years ago, I recall seeing a huge snapping turtle snared in a fence.  The creature had been caught in the rising flood waters of the rain-swollen Huron River and the flow pinned him up against the wire mesh. After the water receded, the entangled behemoth remained suspended above the ground. It was, to put it mildly, rather upset when it was pulled off. I, on the other hand, was delighted at the opportunity to see the beast. It was the largest one I had ever seen. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to put a tape measure to it or to weight it, but was satisfied that it was at least a 40-50 pounder. The thing that most impressed me was the dimension of it’s paws – fully as large as a grizzly bear’s and equally equipped with similarly massive claws.

As the years pass, my description of that turtle inevitably grows. Now that I reflect, that fellow was probably “only” 35 pounds and the paws were more like those of a Black Bear and not a “Grizz.” I know it was over 25 pounds for almost certain, I think. Recently, I spotted another monster Snapper at Kensington Metropark which got me to thinking about that earlier individual (see above).  I’d say this monster eclipsed the earlier one – at least in my mind – and likely has a shell length of 18 inches. This time I have photo proof, but it does little good without size reference (if you’ve seen those pictures of Hogzilla, you know what I mean).  You can compare it with the lily pads, which are about 6 inches in diameter if you take a look at this video sequence (see here).

This turtle was prowling the lily pad shallows close to the Great Blue Heron rookery and it probably has bulked up over the past few years by feasting on fallen chicks. He had attained the age where the shell takes on the appearance of a large smooth boulder. The patches of clinging algae give it the ancient look of an ancient moss covered ruin. Because of this camouflage, it vanished into the muddy bottom when ever it stopped moving. Those massive bear claws are about the only part of the creature that was not covered with patchy green growth.  Even the thick neck , which extended out well beyond the leading edge of the shell, was encrusted with hair-like tufts.

I witnessed a brief encounter as this mega turtle came upon another large snapper in the vicinity. The second turtle was “big” (see here) but it was dwarfed by the larger one.  They stared each other down for the better part of five minutes until the smaller one broke for cover when the big one broke the stalemate and inched forward.

This brings me to the question of how big Common Snappers can really get. Often a snapper conversation gets confused with an Alligator Snapper conversation and figures like 300 pounds get bantered about. The Alligator Snapper, however,  is a southern turtle and doesn’t enter into the north country so we need to stick to figures like 8-35 pounds to cover an average Common Snapper. The current record weight for a wild caught turtle is close to 80 pounds ( a captive one one weighted in at 86 pounds!). Normally the shell length of a Common Snapper is recorded as being between 8 inches and 17 inches and the record length is 18.5 inches.

I’m not claiming any thing near record weight or shell length for my turtle. Fortunately, I never got the opportunity to measure it so I can present my case with a hefty dose of “could be”  underneath those ominous surface bubbles. Whatever the actual size, it was an impressive creature worthy of future exaggeration.


  1. How old to snapping turtles typically live? Like with their size, I’ve heard some outrageous numbers being thrown around.

    Comment by Patrick — June 28, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  2. Patrick:
    From what I know, Snappers can live for many decades but do not reach the century old status of Box Turtles or the incredible ages attained by Tortoises. I believe the life span of a common snapper to be more in the range of up to 30 or 40 years.

    Comment by Gerry Wykes — June 28, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

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