Eastern Snapping Turtle


Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
Size: 8 – 19” (adult carapace length)
Status: Common statewide and throughout Great Lakes region, but locally rare in some areas due to overharvesting.
Eastern Snapping Turtle



Permanent bodies of water, especially quiet, mud-bottomed ponds, lames, and slow streams with dense aquatic vegetation. This species appears to be relatively tolerant of polluted waters.

Adult Coloration:

Brown, black, or olive carapace, often obscured with mud or algae. Plastron may be yellow, tan, or gray, and is small and cross-shaped leaving much exposed skin around legs. Skin color on top of head, neck, and legs generally dark brown, grey, or olive, and lighter shades or dull yellow below. Sometimes with yellow stripes behind eyes and yellow spots on neck or legs.

Adult Characteristics:

Broad carapace with pointed scutes at the rear edge. Shells may be ridged or nearly smooth. Feet webbed with heavy, curved claws. Head large, with a short, pointed snout and sharp jaws with a hooked upper beak. Two barbels on chin, and skin on long neck warty and often covered with blunt tubercles. Three rows of upright triangular scales run down long, thick tail, with middle row larger and more conspicuous.

Juvenile Characteristics:

Same as above, but with three lengthwise keels on carapace.

Species Confused With:

The Eastern Musk Turtle has a similarly small plastron and feisty disposition, but is much smaller than the Snapping Turtle, and has a short tail and highly domed carapace. Snapping Turtle eggs are spherical like Softshell Turtle eggs, but are larger and have more rigid shells.


  • Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region by Jim Harding
  • MI DNR website
  • Harding, J.H. and J.A. Holman. 1990. Michigan Turtles and Lizards. MSU Cooperative Extension Service and MSU Museum. 96 pp.
  • Ruthven, A. G., H. B. T. Gaige, et al. 1912. The herpetology of Michigan, by Alexander B. Ruthven. Crystal Thompson and Helen Thompson; Memoranda towards a bibliography of the archaeology of Michigan, by Harlan I. Smith; prepared under the direction of Alexander G. Ruthven. Lansing, Mich., Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford, State Printers.
  • Holman, J. A. 2012. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Michigan: A Quaternary and Recent Faunal Adventure. Detroit, Mich., Wayne State University Press.
  • Conant, R., and Collins, J. T. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern, Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Press.


  • Jim Harding