My wife Heather and I got Dairy Queen blizzards and drove around the country side last night. We saw 9 baby ducks, deer, cats, dogs, horses, cows, and several Magpie. Then, we came across a female snapping turtle at the side of the gravel road digging a hole to lay her eggs. There is a small creek that runs under the road close by so she didn’t have to travel very far to lay her eggs. However, laying eggs on the side of a gravel road doesn’t seem like a good place to me! But I wasn’t going to argue with her, so I took a few pictures and let her go about her business.

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Average adult size: carapace length, 29.3 cm (11.5 inches) weight, 5,807 g (12.8 pounds)


Snapping turtles are the largest and most aggressive turtles in South Dakota. They are also one of the more common turtles. The largest specimen captured and recorded in the state was a female weighing over 44 pounds. Snapping turtles can be identified by their dark carapace with three longitudinal keels that wear down through the years, jagged margins along the back edge of the carapace, a tail that is long relative to body length, and a small x-shaped plastron. At maturity, female snapping turtles are, on average, smaller than males.

Life history:

Snapping turtles are known for their aggressive nature and large powerful jaws. Like the western painted turtle, the snapping turtle is omnivorous and has a fixed tongue. Sexual maturity is reached between 5 and 7 years of age, and egg laying occurs in open, sandy areas in early June. Like western painted turtles, snapping turtle  sex is dependent upon temperature. Eggs hatch after approximately 55 days, and most hatchlings emerge from the nest in the fall (Ernst et al. 1994). Because large turtles are usually harvested for human consumption, only a few snapping turtles live to be over 40 years old.

Distribution and habitat:

Snapping turtles can be found in any permanent body of water in South Dakota, including wetlands, lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, and ditches. They are occasionally seen basking in the spring on logs or rocks near water. Basking helps kill the algae on the carapace; the algae cause the strong swamp odor that is common to snapping turtles.

Read more about South Dakota’s Turtles