Snapping turtle walking across a farm road; a common occurrence during the early summer as the turtles find nesting sites

Snapping Turtles are one of the four species of turtles in Nova Scotia (Three of the four species are at risk in Nova Scotia). The Snapping Turtle has a large, brown-grey shell (often covered in algae) that is ‘saw-toothed’ at the back. It has a wide head, pointy nose and beak, and spiky tail that gives the Snapping Turtle a prehistoric look. In fact, Snapping Turtles haven’t changed much in 200 million years and shared the earth with dinosaurs.

They grow large; full-grown adults can be over 40 cm in length, and can weigh over 10 kg. They are powerful and fast, and therefore should be given ample space but don’t attack humans or pets unprovoked. The Snapping Turtle is an ecologically important scavenger, eating mostly plants but also fish, frogs and carrion (dead things).

Snapping Turtles are found in freshwater lakes, streams, rivers, and wetlands (marshes, swamps, bogs, and coves). They can also be found in brackish water wetlands. Snapping Turtles favour areas with muddy bottoms, slow-moving water and dense aquatic vegetation, including moss, lily pads, shrubs, and weeds.

A large snapping turtle with algae growing on its back

Females lay their eggs in June in exposed, gravelly or sandy areas, including road shoulders and lakeshores. This is when most human-to-turtle interaction occurs and when turtles are most vulnerable to threats like automobiles and tractors.

Amazingly, Snapping Turtles can live to be more than 100 years old. Although they will defend themselves if harassed on land, they are graceful swimmers and harmless in water.

How You Can Help:

Maintain the natural vegetation and habitat along riparian areas to preserve water quality and ecosystem function by leaving at setback or buffer between fields and the riparian area.

Practice proper nutrient and chemical management practices to reduce contamination of water bodies and use cover crops to reduce soil loss.

A snapping turtle digs a nest for its eggs in gravelly soil near some strawberry plants

Learn how to recognize this species and give it the space it needs. Drive carefully to avoid hitting turtles using gravelly or sandy areas, especially during June when they nest. Learn how to properly move turtles out of harms way without injuring them or yourself by visiting the Toronto Zoo website or YouTube channel.

Helpful Links:

You can find Nova Scotia’s Species at Risk Conservation and Recovery website here and you can report signings of any species at risk (see here for a complete list) by emailing : sightings@speciesatrisk.ca

Nova Scotia Museum has a great webpage with more information on snapping turtles available here

If you see a turtle on the road you can help it get across safely. See this video by the Toronto Zoo for a technique that is safe for you and the turtle.