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How Long Do Snapping Turtles Live?

Snapping turtles are members of the family Chelydridae and the order Testudines — which includes all turtles. ‘Membership has its privileges’, as the old saying goes, and one of those privileges for turtles is usually a fairly long lifespan. So how long does a snapping turtle live?

The lifespan of the snapping turtle depends on the species, of which there are five still in existence. There is little information on three of them, but the most common two varieties of snapping turtles are the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle.

Both are endemic to North America and both are commonly kept as pets.

The common snapping turtle has a lifespan of 47 years in captivity and 17.8 to 30 years in the wild. The alligator snapping turtle, by contrast, can live up to 70 years in captivity and between 11 and 45 years in the wild.

How Long Do Snapping Turtles Live?

Common Snapping Turtle
Don’t frighten this turtle or you might get snapped!

In this section, we’ll tell you a little more about the lifespans of snapping turtles and divide the information up by species. This will break down into the following sections:

  • Common Snapping Turtle
  • Alligator Snapping Turtle
  • Suwanee Snapping Turtle
  • Central American Snapping Turtle
  • South American Snapping Turtle

Keep in mind, of course, that we have the most data on the common and alligator snapping turtle species, as there is not a lot of information available about Suwanee, Central, or South American Snappers, but we’ll provide you with what we have!

Common Snapping Turtle Lifespan

The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is known to reach a lifespan of 17.8 years on average, although it might survive to live up to 47 years! This needs to be considered before getting one as a pet.

In addition to their long lifespan, they are also quite challenging to properly keep. They are massive turtles, for one thing, so they’ll need a huge enclosure. In addition to this, you need to be careful around them as they can cause serious injuries like all other snapping turtles.

The lifespan of the common snapping turtle is lower in the wild, where are estimated to reach a lifespan of up to 30 years.

Males of this species are known to reach maturity at 4 to 6 years and females take a little longer, reaching maturity between 9 and 18 years of age.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Lifespan

Alligator snapping turtle
The Alligator snapping turtle is one beautiful and fierce chelonian.

The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is known to live anywhere from 11 to 45 years in the wild and up to 70 years in captivity. This long lifespan means that you REALLY need to consider the long-term commitment of keeping this turtle as a pet.

Apart from its long lifespan, it is quite a challenging pet to keep, but there are guides out there that can help.

In the wild, males tend to live longer, with the average lifespan of males falling between 11 to 45 years, with an average of 26 years. Females live to be 15 to 37 years, with an average of 23 years.

Suwannee Snapping Turtle Lifespan

There is no information on the lifespan of the Suwannee snapping turtle (Macrochelys suwanniensis). The lifespan SHOULD be similar to that of the alligator snapping turtle as both belong to the same genus – Macrochelys.

As such, we would estimate that the Suwannee snapping turtle’s lifespan falls into the range of 11 to 45 years in the wild and up to 70 years in captivity.

Central American Snapping Turtle Lifespan

There is no information available on the lifespan of the Central American snapping turtle (Chelydra rossignonii), but their lifespan should be similar to that of the common snapping turtle as both are part of the same genus – Chelydra.

This puts the estimated lifespan at 17.8 years on average, with a high of 47 years.

South American Snapping Turtle Lifespan

There is also scant information on the lifespan of the South American snapping turtle (Chelydra acutirostris), but since they are part of the same genus (Chelydra) as the common snapping turtle, the lifespan of this turtle should be around is 17.8 years on average with a high of 47 years.

About Snapping Turtles – A quick crash-course in the basics

Snapping turtles are endemic to North and South America. The most common snapping turtles are the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle and these turtles are among the most popular in the world and routinely kept as pets.

Despite their popularity, they have somewhat dour temperaments and can be quite vicious. This viciousness has earned them a place in political imagery and the common snapping turtle is even the state reptile of New York!

It is essential to be careful around snapping turtles, as they have a very powerful bite — capable of amputating fingers1 They can also easily lacerate the skin, so it’s important to be cautious when approaching snapping turtles – especially in the wild.

There are five different snapping turtle species out there beside the well-known and popular common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and alligator snapping turtle(Macrochelys temminckii).

The other three are the South American snapping turtle (Chelydra acutirostris),  the Central American snapping turtle (Chelydra rossignonii), and the Suwannee snapping turtle (Macrochelys suwanniensis).

Common Snapping Turtle

Common snapping turtle - chelydra serpentina
Chelydra serpentina, aka the Common snapping turtle

The common snapping turtle is the most popular of the snapping turtles, thus the addition of ‘common’ in its common name. The binomial name of the species is Chelydra serpentina.

Similar to other snapping turtles, the common snapping turtle is quite vicious and will attack if threatened, and it is capable of delivering powerful bites that can cause serious injuries.

Despite their aggressive tendencies, they still normally avoid humans, and will only attack when threatened and when out of water. They are usually found in a freshwater body such as a lake.

These turtles are large, but not as large as the alligator snapping turtle. They reach a carapace length of 8 to 18.5 inches (20 to 40 cm), as well as a tail that can be almost as long as their shell. Similar to other snapping turtles, the male of the species is larger than the female.

The common snapping turtle, despite their temperament, is actually a popular pet. Even though it can be quite dangerous, this turtle is moderately easy to care for, although we would only recommend this turtle to people with experience in caring for aquatic reptiles.

In Canada, the species is endemic to Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.

In the United States, they are widespread and found in almost every state. These include Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, and Missouri.

You’ll also find them in Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, and Montana.

Outside of its geographic range, the species has been introduced to Taiwan, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, and this species prefers to inhabit lakes, reservoirs, marshes, rivers, streaks, tidal creeks, and ponds.

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Alligator snapping turtle in a small pond
Alligator snapping turtle in a small pond

The alligator snapping turtle is known as Macrochelys temminckii and it is endemic to North America. One of the more popular snapping turtles, Alligator Snappers are often kept as pets, despite being quite difficult to keep.

For starters, they can be quite aggressive when out of water, but the biggest danger is that they are capable of causing serious injuries with their bites. 

The alligator snapping turtle is a huge turtle and, in fact, the largest freshwater turtle endemic to North America. They can reach a carapace length of 40 inches (101 cm) and a weight of up to of 176 pounds (80 kg).

The alligator snapping turtle is a primitive-looking reptile and its crocodilian appearance gives this animal its common name – the ‘alligator’ snapping turtle. Their head is huge, with a powerful jaw and a rough-looking shell that sports three spiky ridges.

The species is known to naturally occur in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois, and Kentucky.

It prefers slow-moving waters, but may also be found in reservoirs, rivers, lakes, canals, oxbows, or even brackish water near river mouths and streams.

If your planning on keeping one as a pet, have a look at our Alligator Snapping turtle care guide before you defice to get one.

Suwannee Snapping Turtle

The Suwannee snapping turtle is a recently discovered/described species and its binomial name is Macrochelys suwanniensis. The turtle was discovered in 2021, in the Okefenokee Swamp.

This species was once considered to be part of the alligator snapping turtle family, but is now considered its own separate species.

Suwanee snappers are limited in their distribution to the Suwannee river system which gives them their common name. There are believed to be less than 2,000 individuals alive and as such, it is considered to be a potentially threatened species.

The species is endemic to Georgia and Florida, with most of its population being found in Florida, and only a small portion in Georgia.

This species is found in Lower Suwannee River National Wildlife Refuge, River Rise State Park, O’leno State Park, Suwannee River State Park, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Manatee Springs State Park, and Stephen Foster State Park and likes to inhabit quiet rivers and lakes.

Central American Snapping Turtle

The Central American snapping turtle is endemic to Central America — particularly Mexico, Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala. This turtle is also known as the Mexican snapping turtle and the Yucatan snapping turtle. In Veracruz in Mexico, the species is commercially farmed.

Central American snappers are closely related to the common snapping turtle and both share the same genus. The binomial name of this turtle is  Chelydra rossignonii.

Similar to other snapping turtles here, the Central American snapping turtle is aquatic and spends most of its time in the water where it feeds on shrimps, prawns, clams, crabs, aquatic insects, frogs, fish, and other vertebrates. They also feed on algae, and plant parts such as leaves, stems, and fruits.

The habitats where they may be found include large rivers, slow-current smaller rivers, oxbows, and backwater sloughs. It is not found in clearwater habitats, as it prefers murky water.

The species is not very large for a snapper– known to grow to a length of 14.6 inches (37 cm) and a weight of 26 lb (12 kg).

South American Snapping Turtle

The last snapping turtle out there is the South American snapping turtle. This turtle is also closely related to the common snapping turtle and both turtles are part of the genus Chelydra. The binomial name of this chelonian is Chelydra acutirostris.

Endemic to Honduras Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Ecuador. there is little information on the South American snapping turtle, unfortunately, beyond it being quite similar to the common snapping turtle.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the oldest snapping turtle?

The oldest known snapping turtle is an alligator snapping turtle that really broke some serious records, living to a ripe old age of 150 when it passed away in 2016. This turtle’s name was ‘Thunder’ and you can learn a little more about him by visiting this link.

Are snapping turtles the longest-lived chelonians?

The longest-living chelonians are not turtles, but tortoises. These include the African spur-thighed tortoise with an individual who is said to have lived to 344 years — although this isn’t verifiable. Giant tortoises, such as the Aldabra giant tortoise also have long lives.

One individual Aldabra giant tortoise was said to have lived to be 250 years, but again, without more concrete data, this is difficult to accurately prove.

What eats a snapping turtle?

The only predators of adult snapping turtles are humans who use their meat for stews and soups. The hatchlings and eggs, however, are often eaten by large birds, ray-finned fishes, raccoons, great blue herons, stripped skunks, American crows, water snakes, bullfrogs, largemouth bass, and red foxes.

Conclusion

Snapping turtles are among the most popular turtles kept as pets but pay attention to the name! The word ‘snap’ refers to the behavior of snapping at people and objects they perceive as threats, and they have strong jaws that are quite capable of amputating human fingers.

Many people have lost fingers to snapping turtles, so we cannot stress this enough – we do not recommend raising snappers if you are new to chelonians. They also happen to have long lives, and this is another factor to keep in mind if you are considering obtaining one.

The lifespans of only two of the five snapping turtles are known and these are the alligator snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle. These are the most common snapping turtles, and the alligator snapping turtle can live to 70 years )with rare exceptions living longer) and has a lifespan of 26 years in the wild.

The common snapping turtle has a captive lifespan of 47 years, but for snappers in the wild 17.8 to 30 years is the expected lifespan.

Those are impressive numbers, so if you’re thinking about getting a snapper of your own, just be sure to consider their temperament and longevity before you make your final decision!

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