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Mystic Aquarium / Cheryl Miller

The Common Snapping Turtle

July 26, 2022

At Mystic Aquarium, our common snapping turtle, Stretch, has already made a lasting impact on a local community. Along with being loved by staff and visitors alike, Stretch was the featured model for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation Childhood Development Center. In local Native American culture, the common snapping turtle represents many traditional beliefs. Some of these beliefs are the 13 scutes, the bony plates that make the pattern on the shell, represent the 13 months in the Native American calendar, and their four legs represent the four seasons. The Childhood Development Center is a cultural classroom where children from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe learn about their history, ancient language, and traditional song and dance. In addition, the turtle has become a symbol of unity to the Tribal Nation and cultural exchange with all other tribes. Click here to learn more!

You can look, but we advise against touching the common snapping turtle! This turtle species has evolved into a creature of ultimate practicality and function. Their adaptations may not be as jaw-dropping as others but help them hide from predators, catch prey, and survive freezing waters. This aquatic turtle lives in freshwater and brackish muddy riverbeds, ponds, and lakes from southeastern Canada to Mexico. The common snapping turtle prefers plants, insects, fish, and small animals as scavengers in their habitat but will eat whatever it can swallow.   

As opportunistic eaters that thrive at the top of their ecosystems, they do not have many natural predators. Still, they are threatened by larger animals and humans that sometimes utilize them as pets or for their shells and meat. To hide from these threats, the common snapping turtle buries itself in the muddy bottoms of its habitat, allowing only its nostrils and eyes to be visible. This strategy helps them protect their exposed body as well. Most turtle species can retract their head and legs into their hard shell, but the common snapping turtle can’t because of its smaller plastron, which is the shell covering its stomach. 

While for protection, burying themselves also helps the common snapping turtle catch prey. They can ambush unknowing swimmers utilizing their powerful jaws by leveraging their coverage. While they have no teeth, they have a bite force of 209 Newtons (N), the pressure exerted on the muscles used to bite within the turtle’s jaw. For reference, the average bite force of a human is 300-600 N! Their strong bite and their tendency to do so when feeling threatened is why they have an unfriendly reputation. However, the common snapping turtle is a docile creature and prefers to avoid confrontation when left alone. They will often swim away from threats in the water, but their macho mentality emerges when feeling threatened or provoked on land.