Chelydridae – Snapping turtles

The 'dinosaurs of turtle world' are armed with spiked shell and beaklike jaws

A group of turtles known for their defensive aggression, powerful jaws, and robust size contribute to their reputation as formidable creatures in their native habitats. The family includes the common snapping turtle and the larger alligator snapping turtle, which possess an ancient, almost prehistoric appearance that often strikes fear in those who encounter them.

Snapping turtles have a wide distribution, inhabiting freshwater environments across southeastern Asia, northern South America, and North America. They are a crucial component of these ecosystems, often acting as apex predators. Their diverse diets include fish, invertebrates, smaller turtles, amphibians, birds, and various plant matter, reflecting their opportunistic feeding behavior.

One of the most notable behaviors of snapping turtles is their tendency to avoid basking out of water, a common practice among other turtle species to regulate body temperature. Instead, they are often found lurking beneath the surface, where they can go unnoticed until disturbed. Snapping turtles prefer to thermoregulate by moving to waters of different temperatures, and when they do emerge from the water, it is typically during the night or overcast days.

Although snapping turtles spend most of their lives in water, they are not particularly agile swimmers compared to other aquatic turtle species. They are often observed walking along the bottoms of lakes, rivers, and marshes, using their strong legs to traverse the substrate.

The defensive behavior of snapping turtles, where they quickly snap as a threat response, is a survival adaptation. Their snapping is a primary means of deterring predators and is especially notable when they are out of the water and feel vulnerable. The alligator snapping turtle also has a unique method of luring prey with a worm-like appendage on its tongue, an example of aggressive mimicry.