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Snapping Turtle Eggs and Their Journey from Nest to Nature

Have you ever seen snapping turtle eggs? The eggs of the alligator snapping turtle, with its distinctive upper shell and long tail, are a marvel of nature. In their natural habitat, ranging from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, these turtles lay eggs that play a crucial role in maintaining turtle populations.

These turtles range across various habitats, including brackish water and slow-moving streams, where the female carefully selects a nesting site. The dark carapace of the mother snapping turtle camouflages her as she lays her eggs, often near small ponds or in sandy soils.

They’re quite a bit different from bird eggs. Instead of being oval-shaped, they look more like ping pong balls, and if you ever feel one in your hand you’ll notice another difference – they don’t have the same texture.

While both bird and turtle eggs are made of calcium carbonate, with turtles it is in aragonite form, and the introduction of that mineral makes turtle eggs flexible – rather than hard and brittle like a bird’s egg.

When you find a snapper nest, there will be a LOT of eggs — Common snapping turtles, on average, will lay about  20 to 35 eggs, although it may lay up to 100. The alligator snapper, by contrast, typically lays 25 to 35, but may lay as many as 61!

Snapping turtles lay a single clutch per nesting season only once a year at most. That’s because it’s hard on their bodies, so the female sometimes skips a year between nestings.

As we observe these turtles, it’s not uncommon to see small turtles or baby snapping turtles nearby. These turtle hatchlings, emerging from their soft shell eggs next year, will embark on a journey similar to their mothers’.

It’s really quite a fascinating subject that deserves a closer look, so get comfy and we’ll tell you all about common and alligator snapping turtle eggs!

Alligator Snapping Turtle Eggs

Alligator Snapping Turtle Eggs
Alligator Snap[ping Turtle eggs hatching – Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife service

Age of Maturity

Reaching sexual maturity is a significant milestone in the life of snapping turtles. The journey to reproductive age involves traversing great distances, often crossing habitats like slow-moving water and open fields.

Snapping turtles can’t mate until they are mature enough, and that can take a little while – A female alligator snapping turtle can reach maturity as early as 9 years, although the average female matures between the ages of 11 to 13 years!

Some females have even been known to reach maturity as late as 18 years, although this is rare.

Upon reaching maturity, the female will start to lay eggs — even without mating, as she doesn’t need to mate before ovipositing (the official term for laying her eggs). Females that haven’t mated simply produce unfertilized eggs.

Additionally, females can store sperm for up to 3 years, to use for fertilizing eggs at a later date. As such a female can lay fertilized eggs, even if the mating process occurred several years ago!

Mating & Nesting

The process of egg laying for these turtles begins with finding the right nesting spot. Female snappers, equipped with their powerful jaws and long necks, select areas that are safe from small mammals and other predators.

Matured alligator snapping turtles mate from February to April, based on data obtained from wild specimens in Florida and thankfully, there is a lot of data out there from surveys!

For instance, along the Apalachicola River, the gravid females nest from late April to mid-May. In Manchac, Louisiana, nesting occurs from April to early May.

In Jonesville, Louisiana, nesting occurs from mid-May to early June and finally, in Butler County, Missouri, nesting occurs in June.

While females can lay anywhere from 9 to 61 eggs per single nesting session, the average clutch will consist of 25 to 35 eggs per nest. The larger the female, the more eggs she can lay.

Unlike most other turtles, the alligator snapping turtle lays only one clutch within a year and that’s not guaranteed- sometimes they skip a year!

When creating a nest, females dig in an area (at least) 50 yards from the edge of a water body, to reduce the risk of the eggs drowning in case of floods, and it’s one of the rare times you’ll see a snapper on land.

They prefer to spend most of their lives in water.

When those eggs are laid, it will be, it takes 15 to 18 weeks for the eggs to hatch, and in northwestern Florida, the eggs continue to hatch well into August with a success rate of about 66 to 78 percent.

Factors that affect nesting success include temperature, precipitation, and natural predators looking to dine on the female’s eggs.

Ever spotted an alligator snapper in the wild? We can tell you where they live when you’re done here!

Sex Determination

The temperature of the nest determines the sex of the turtle. Higher temperatures will result in more female hatchlings and interestingly enough, certain lower temperatures also result mostly in female hatchlings.

Lower temperatures from 72.5 to 75.2 degrees Fahrenheit (22.5 to 24 degrees Celsius) result mostly in female hatchlings, while the higher range of 82.4 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (28 to 30 degrees Celsius) will also produce mostly females.

Between the temperatures of 77 to 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit (25 to 27 degrees Celsius), however, you’ll get mostly male hatchlings.

Don’t believe us? Check out this study from the National Library of Medicine on Ebyonic temperature and how it influences gender and growth rates – It’s quite an interesting read!

Animals that Eat Alligator Snapping Turtle Eggs

Raccoons love eggs
Raccoons love eggs and turtle eggs are definitely included!

We’d briefly mentioned a predator problem, and as it turns out, several animals -including birds and mammals – eat the eggs of this species.

Some of these animals include raccoons (Procyon lotor) and large birds (Aves), but ants, armadilloes, some snakes, and many other animals make the list. As such, it’s a very good thing that they lay so many eggs per clutch!

Common Snapping Turtle Eggs

While smaller turtles, like the eastern box turtle and wood turtles, have their unique reproductive patterns, the common snapping turtle exhibits fascinating behaviors during the breeding season.

A fresh-laid snapping turtle egg looks just like a wet ping-pong ball!

Age of Maturity

A female common snapping turtle can reach maturity as early as 8 years — and as late as 20 years! It generally seems to boil down to the particular region, or at least that’s what the data seems to suggest.

For example, females found in the northern portion of the species geographic range in Canada reach maturity at a later age than females found in the southern portion of that range.

In Ontario, females reach maturity between 10 to 20 years of age, although the average occurrence of their first nesting happens when the female is 17 to 19 years old.

In Michigan, the age of maturity among females is 11 to 16 years, while in Iowa, the age of maturity is 8 years.

Similar to Macrochelys temminckii (alligator snappers), the females can and DO lay eggs upon reaching maturity even if they have not mated. These will be unfertilized eggs, but eggs nonetheless.

Like alligator snappers, common snapping turtle females can store viable sperm for several years before fertilizing their eggs, and they can even use sperm from several males to fertilize a single clutch.

Mating & Nesting

Mating takes place during the warm months. For instance in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, mating takes place in May.

Nesting will occur from late May to early July, although most gravid females nest from the middle of June to early July — with June being the most popular month. In places where the weather is mostly dry, rains often stimulate nesting behaviors.

Common snapping turtles can lay as many as 100 eggs per clutch, although on average they’ll only lay 20 to 35 eggs every year.

Mating generally occurs in aquatic habitats such as streams, and later females will build a nest in gravel and sand banks along their habitat.

They like to nest in areas such as artificial dams and railway embankments, abandoned beaver lodges, fissures in rocky shorelines, freshly dug soil, gardens, lawns, muskrat houses, road shoulders, sawdust heaps, and forest clearings.

Once a nest has been dug and the female has laid her eggs, they typically take 2 to 3.5 months to hatch. Hatching generally occurs from late August to early October, with September being the most common month for it.

Some hatchlings do not emerge before winter and when that happens, there is still a possibility that they may emerge the following spring but this is rare.

Most eggs that remain in the ground over the winter will die. According to data counted in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, only 1 out of 129 clutches that remain in the ground over the winter will survive.

Sex Determination

A common snapping turtle in the wild
Male or female? It’s too bad we can’t see the tail!

Understanding the sex determination process in snapping turtles is vital, especially considering factors like climate change. Researchers have found that weather conditions, like those experienced in the eastern United States, can significantly impact this process.

Just like alligator snappers, the sex of common snapping turtle hatchings is determined by the temperature of the nest.

Temperatures below 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) and above 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius) will produce females.

Temperatures of 73.4 to 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit ( 23 to 28 degrees Celsius) produce a mix of males and females, and temperatures of 73 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (22.8 to 23.9 degrees Celsius)  will produce only males.

The relation between temperature and sex is less clear when temperatures fluctuate but breeders often use these temperature ranges and incubators to produce offspring of the desired genders.

If you’re raising a female snapping turtle, she will lay eggs even without a mate – and that can be dangerous if she doesn’t have a nest. Find out how to make her a DIY nesting box!

Animals that Eat Common Snapping Turtle Eggs

Nest predation is common in places where the common snapping turtle nests. In Point Pelee National Park, Ontario, 63 to 100 percent of nests were destroyed in 2001 and 2002.

In Rondeau Provincial Park, Ontario, 100 percent of nests were destroyed in 2000 and 2001. In Grafton Lake, Nova Scotia, 23 to 47 percent of nests were destroyed and in Michigan from 1976 to 1983, 70 percent of nests were destroyed by predators.

Predators of snapper eggs include red foxes (Vulpes fulva), coyotes (Canis latrans), raccoons (Procyon lotor), striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), and Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) – with red foxes and raccoons being the most common.

Predators are usually able to find the nests within a day of nesting, taking note of visual and olfactory cues to locate the nest — such as the soil disturbance and scent left after the gravid female has completed the nest.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can turtle eggs be eaten by humans?

Yes, turtle eggs can be eaten, depending on the species. Humans commonly eat sea turtle eggs, for instance.

Loggerhead turtle eggs, olive ridley turtle eggs, hawksbill turtle eggs, and green turtle eggs are considered delicacies all over the world in places where sea turtles nest such as in Nicaragua, Madagascar, Panama, and the United States.

Do snapping turtles eat eggs?

While they will certainly eat other turtles if they catch them, there is no evidence to suggest that they eat other turtle’s or even bird’s eggs. It’s possible, of course, but no currently recorded data has documented this behavior.

How big are turtle eggs?

The size of a turtle egg varies from one species to another.
For example, Hawksbill marine turtles lay eggs that weigh about 28 grams, while Leatherback turtles lay eggs that weigh about 90.

It really just depends on the species itself and how large they will be when they reach maturity – With bigger turtles, you get larger eggs!

How fast do snapping turtles lay eggs?

While it could take several hours, snapping turtles will generally lay all of their eggs within a 1-3 hour period.

Larger snapping turtles can lay more eggs than smaller ones and may take a little longer, but 1- 3 hours is the most commonly documented time.

Conclusion

These eggs, laid by adult turtles, are a crucial part of ensuring the continuity of turtle species. In places like New England, home to Connecticut’s largest freshwater turtle, the conservation of these eggs is essential.

Snapping turtle eggs are almost spherical and resemble ping-pong balls but with flexible shells instead of hard and brittle ones. They may also be laid without fertilization or fertilized up to 3 years after mating, as females may store the sperm.

While common snapping turtles usually lay 20 to 35 eggs per clutch, they could lay as many as 100, and alligator snapping turtles usually produce  25 to 35 eggs per clutch — but can lay as many as 61 eggs!

Finally, don’t forget that the temperature decides the gender of the turtle – a neat little trick in the reptile world – although with snappers very low or very high temperatures tend to produce mostly females.

It’s all pretty fascinating when you think about it! That’s about all the time that we have for today but until next time, we wish you and yours the very best!

There’s lots of info out there on common snapping turtle care, but what about alligator snapping turtles? We’re glad you asked – Check out our Alligator Snapping Turtle Care Guide here!

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