The Snapping Turtle is Ontario’s largest turtle by far. In Algonquin Park, we have seen some that have grown to monstrous sizes, often with their shells green with algae. They have powerful pointed beaks and extremely long necks. The speed they can accomplish with stretching their necks is quite amazing as they snap towards their prey.
Snapping Turtles are the only turtle in our region that can’t fully withdraw in its shell. Because of this, their only defence on land is to snap with their powerful jaws or scratch with their long claws. Because of this, there are often mistakenly looked at as aggressive. They usually only respond when they are grabbed or poked.
They are not aggressive at all while in the water. When I was a kid, I used to go out fishing very late at night using a Jitter-bug. It would be pitch dark and all I could hear was the bubbling of the surface lure; until a bass strikes. I would be standing knee deep in the river in my bare feet. One evening, I felt something and turned on my flashlight on. There swimming around my toes was a massive Snapping Turtle. As my heart pounded, he foraged all around me. I was not about to move; not even wiggle my toes. He slowly moved on. After that, I felt honoured to be in its presence.
Snappers rarely leave the water other than to lay their eggs in early to mid-June. The young hatch in September. I have seen newly hatched snapping turtles in late September heading to the lake in Algonquin and had to crawl over the thin layer of ice on the shoreline to reach the water. They must have to hibernate very shortly after birth.
A Snapping Turtle just starting to emerge from hibernation