Male vs Female Snapping Turtle: What Are The Differences?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: October 10, 2022
Image Credit Tyler Clemons/Shutterstock.com
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Snapping turtles are some of the largest freshwater reptiles in the United States. These amazing turtles can be found across much of the eastern US and have quite the reputation for biting! Altogether, there are only three species in the Chelydra genus, with the common snapping turtles being the most widespread. Today, we are going to look at these turtles in order to see the differences between males and females. Let’s explore: Male vs Female Snapping Turtle; what makes them unique?

Comparing a male and a female snapping turtle

Males have a curved shell under their bodies, while females have a flattened shell.

A-Z-Animals.com

Snapping TurtlesMaleFemale
SizeWeight: 10-35 lbsWeight: 10-20 lbs
TailsLong, thick tails.Short, thin tails.
PlastronCurved plastron.Flat plastron.
ReproductionMates and deposits sperm.Lays between 25-80 eggs per year.
Land TravelTravels for new territory, but not as often as the female.Regularly travels over land to lay eggs.

The 5 main differences between a Male and Female Snapping Turtle

The main differences between male and female snapping turtles are that males are larger, have longer tails, and have a curved plastron (bottom shell).

Snapping turtles are some of the most common and fearsome turtles across the eastern United States. Heavily armored and stealthy, these reptiles are famous for being able to “bite a finger off” if given a chance. Thankfully, they don’t really like being around humans and swim off before we ever get close.

Although they have a bad reputation, snapping turtles have been around for a long time and play an important role in water ecosystems. The common snapping turtle is the most common member of the Chelydra genus and the one that most people are familiar with. Although it isn’t easy to tell right away, there are some distinct differences between the various species and even between the sexes. Today, we are going to explore the differences between male and female snapping turtles.

Male vs Female Snapping Turtle: Size

Male vs Female Snapping Turtle
Male turtles are larger than female turtles.

iStock.com/Jacob Stock

In many species, there is a size discrepancy between males and females. In the case of snapping turtles, males are generally larger. On average, male turtles grow between 10 and 35 lbs, although they technically have no upper limit. The majority of turtles more than 22 lbs are old males.

Female turtles are usually smaller than males. On average, a female turtle weighs between 10 and 20 lbs but could theoretically get larger than that.

Male vs Female Snapping Turtle: Tails

Male vs Female Snapping Turtle
Males have longer, thicker tails, and females have shorter, thinner tails.

Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

The easiest way to tell the difference between a male and a female snapper is their tails. In males, the tail is longer and thicker than the females. For most people identifying by eye, this is the best method when sexing them.

Female turtles generally have shorter, thinner tails when compared to males.

Male vs Female Snapping Turtle: Plastron

Male vs Female Snapping Turtle
Males have a curved plastron, while females have a flatter plastron.

Sherseydc / Creative Commons

The plastron is the section of the shell under the body of a turtle. In snapping turtles, plastrons are remarkably small when compared to most turtles around the world. Additionally, they appear disconnected. Still, looking at the plastron of a snapper can give clues as to its sex.

Males are generally recognized as having a plastron that is slightly curved. Females usually have a plastron that is flatter than males.

Although this detail is useful, it’s not as practical for the average person to check as they would have to risk a serious bite to flip the turtle over.

Male vs Female Snapping Turtle: Reproduction

Male vs Female Snapping Turtle
Males contribute sperm, while females make nests, travel, and lay eggs.

Moondigger / Creative Commons

One of the primary differences between male and female turtles is their reproduction habits. Turtles practice iteroparity (repeated reproductive events) over the course of their life and sexually mature between 12-20 years.

Males contribute sperm to the life equation, but that’s about it. They don’t care for or protect the eggs or hatchlings in any real way.

Females, on the other hand, play a much larger role. After mating with a male, a female can hold onto his sperm for several seasons, using it to create viable eggs whenever she deems it necessary. When she is ready to lay, a female turtle will travel over land in order to find sand soil to dig. Per year, females usually lay between 25 and 80 eggs total.

Male vs Female Snapping Turtle: Land travel

Male vs Female Snapping Turtle
Females are known to travel long distances in order to find sandy soil to lay eggs in.

JessKay/Shutterstock.com

Although both males and females can travel on land, males are usually less likely to be found away from the water. The only reason males will leave the safety of the water is if they are hoping to branch out and find more territory to inhabit.

Females are much more likely to be found away from water. In fact, while looking for a place to lay eggs, female snappers are known to travel a considerable distance to find sand.

What Do Snapping Turtles Eat
What Do Snapping Turtles Eat
Tyler Clemons/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

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