Should you be afraid of snapping turtles?

With their serrated shells, big beaks and camouflaged eyeballs, snappers aren’t showing up on the Internet’s lists of cute animals anytime soon, and their grumpy disposition doesn’t help with public relations.
The snapping turtle’s appearance and attitude has conjured many a tall tale of attack and injury – and prompted plenty of folks to turn their shovels, their tire irons, and even their vehicles into tools for turtle execution. No doubt about it, snappers are scary looking.
But hear me out: they are NOT indiscriminately taking people’s toes off, dragging down pets to a watery grave or wiping out the duck population. There’s no need to fear them (beyond that healthy sense of caution that should be applied to all wild animals, even the cute ones,) and there is absolutely no need to kill them. None. Leave them alone. Give them space.
Appreciate them for their prehistoric sense of style and their 40-million-year fortitude. Snappers are an important part of our wetland ecosystems, and they’ve earned the right to ambush tadpoles in our local swimming holes and plod across the driveway unmolested. If you really don’t like them, that’s okay. They don’t like you either – but they definitely won’t kill you over it.
snapping turtle

This hefty female was ambushing alewives in a Waldo County brook as they traveled upstream to spawn. She was moving to a more productive spot when I captured her winning smile.

While adult snappers have few natural enemies, juveniles are on the menu for mink, herons, largemouth bass and other wildlife. Raccoons and skunks are notorious for digging up turtles nests and eating both eggs and hatchlings.

While adult snappers have few natural enemies, juveniles are on the menu for mink, herons, largemouth bass and other wildlife. Raccoons and skunks are notorious for digging up turtles nests and eating both eggs and hatchlings.

She doesn't look too grateful, but I like to think that this mother snapping turtle appreciated my efforts to get her across the highway safely. One of the best things we can do to protect the species is slow down and stay alert while driving in turtle territory - especially during nesting time in early summer. Snappers take a long time to reach maturity, and just a few highway fatalities can really impact a local population.

She doesn’t look too grateful, but I like to think that this mother snapping turtle appreciated my efforts to get her across the highway safely. One of the best things we can do to protect the species is slow down and stay alert while driving in turtle territory – especially during nesting time in early summer. Snappers take a long time to reach maturity, and just a few highway fatalities can really impact a local population.

David Munson

About David Munson

Hi. I'm Dave. I've been writing more-or-less professionally for almost twenty years, and I'm a nature nerd. I've been an arborist, a ranch hand, a car salesman and a scientist. I've published journal articles about caterpillar communication and poems about frogs. I've taught biology, ecology, botany, marine science, aquaculture, horticulture and gym. I have trained park rangers to do citizen science and third-graders to make anatomically correct cardboard clams. I've been told I take pretty good pictures, and I've been writing nature articles for the internet since digital cameras took floppy discs. I like to hike, fish and watch B movies, and I keep a collection of bones in my basement, but not in a creepy way. I have a great family and cool friends, and am proud to be a Lincolnvillain (yes, I spelled that right.) You can check out my photos on Instagram @madnaturalist and keep up with my random wanderings on my website at Madnaturalist.com. I can't sing and I can't skate, but I have scratched a white rhinoceros behind the ear and been assaulted by a howler monkey. Mostly I walk in the woods and look under rocks. There is nothing I would like more than to share these experiences with you.