Eastern Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentina

Adult from Parke County
Adult from Wayne County

Identification: This abundant turtle is, probably, Indiana's largest remaining native reptile. Their large size, massive head, and powerful jaws are enough to distinguish adults from any other Indiana turtle likely to be encountered. Smaller turtles have more pronounced ridges and peaks on their carapace and turtles of all size have a long, spiny tail unlike most other Indiana turtles. Adult snapping turtles may have shell (carapace) lengths from 15 - 18 in (35 - 45 cm) and may weigh more than 50 lbs.

Similar Species: This turtle is most commonly mistaken for the much larger alligator snapping turtle. The first and most important thing to consider when identifying snapping turtles in Indiana, is that alligator snapping turtles are incredibly rare and may now be extirpated from Indiana. Secondly, alligator snapping turtles are highly aquatic, ungainly on land, and rarely leave the water. Therefore, any snapping turtle encountered out of water in Indiana is certainly this species. Also, Eastern snapping turtles can grow to nearly 75 lbs whereas alligator snapping turtles can grow over twice as large, at over 150 lbs (a size that would be difficult for an average adult to lift). The most notable diagnostic characteristic beyond this size difference is that alligator snapping turtles have three raised ridges running parallel down their carapace. Large Eastern snapping turtles have only slightly raised bumps or knobs on their carapace.

Distribution: Snapping turtles may be the most widespread and common turtle species in Indiana, given that they inhabit both moving water-environs (rivers and streams) and still-water habitats (ponds and lakes). They are also capable of moving long distances over land, meaning that they readily colonize small farm ponds and other isolated bodies of water. Despite the large size of adults, juveniles and younger turtles frequently utilize small headwater streams; even those that dry seasonally.

Marshy Lake in Lagrange County
Stream in Boone County

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
Photographs