Chelydra serpentina - (Linnaeus, 1758)
Snapping Turtle
Other English Common Names: Common Snapping Turtle, Eastern Snapping Turtle, snapping turtle
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Chelydra serpentina (Linnaeus, 1758) (TSN 173752)
French Common Names: tortue serpentine
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.103761
Element Code: ARAAB01010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Turtles
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Chelonia Cryptodeira Chelydridae Chelydra
Genus Size: A - Monotypic genus
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: King, F. W., and R. L. Burke, editors. 1989. Crocodilian, tuatara, and turtle species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Association of Systematics Collections, Washington, D.C. 216 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B89KIN01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Chelydra serpentina
Taxonomic Comments: Peninsular Florida population sometimes has been regarded as a separate species, C. osceola. MtDNA exhibits almost no variation within or between populations in the southeastern U.S. (Walker et al. 1998), though there are moderate mtDNA differences between individuals in North America and those in Central and South America (Philips et al. 1996). Phillips et al. (1996) proposed that three evolutionary species be recognized in the Chelydra serpentina group, but Sites and Crandall (1997) disputed their methods and conclusions and emphasized the need for further study using improved methods. In accordance with Phillips et al. (1996) and Shaffer et al. (2008), Crother (2012) and Turtle Taxonomy Working Group (2012) recognized three species of Chelydra, with no subspecies in C. serpentina.

This species has previously been called the Common Snapping Turtle (e.g. Collins 1997), but according to Crother et al. (2008) the adjective has been dropped because it might be misinterpreted as referring to the abundance of the species rather than its being the typical, most widespread species of its family.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 02Feb2016
Global Status Last Changed: 21Oct1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Common and widespread in central and eastern North America; tolerates disturbed habitats; readily colonizes newly created habitats; no significant threats.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (05Oct1996)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5 (02Feb2016)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (S5), Arizona (SNA), Arkansas (S5), Colorado (S4), Connecticut (S5), Delaware (S5), District of Columbia (S5), Florida (S5), Georgia (S5), Idaho (SNA), Illinois (S5), Indiana (SNR), Iowa (S5), Kansas (S5), Kentucky (S5), Louisiana (S5), Maine (S5), Maryland (S5), Massachusetts (S5), Michigan (S5), Minnesota (S4S5), Mississippi (S5), Missouri (SNR), Montana (S3), Nebraska (S5), Nevada (SNA), New Hampshire (S5), New Jersey (SNR), New Mexico (S5), New York (S5), North Carolina (S5), North Dakota (SNR), Ohio (SNR), Oklahoma (S5), Pennsylvania (S5), Rhode Island (S5), South Carolina (SNR), South Dakota (S5), Tennessee (S5), Texas (S4), Utah (SNA), Vermont (S5), Virginia (S5), Washington (SNA), West Virginia (S5), Wisconsin (S4S5), Wyoming (S4)
Canada British Columbia (SNA), Manitoba (S3), New Brunswick (S3), Nova Scotia (S3), Ontario (S3), Quebec (S4), Saskatchewan (S3)

Other Statuses

Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA) Schedule 1/Annexe 1 Status: SC (04Feb2011)
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC): Special Concern (28Nov2008)
Comments on COSEWIC: Reason for Designation: Although this species is widespread and still somewhat abundant, its life history (late maturity, great longevity, low recruitment, lack of density-dependent responses), and its dependence on long warm summers to complete incubation successfully make it unusually susceptible to anthropogenic threats. When these threats cause even apparently minor increases in mortality of adults, populations are likely to decline as long as these mortality increases persist. There are several such threats and their impacts are additive. Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge generally support the declining trend and population figures in the COSEWIC report.

Status History: Designated Special Concern in November 2008. Assessment based on a new status report.

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Protection Status (CITES): Appendix III

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Range extends from southern Alberta eastward across southern Canada to Nova Scotia, and south to the Gulf Coast (Texas to Florida), and west in the United States to the Rocky Mountains. Snapping turtles have been introduced in several places in western North America and eastern Asia.

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Represented by many and/or large occurrences throughout much of the large range (Gibbons et al. 1988).

Population Size: 10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Usually common where found. Numbers can be very high in some habitats.

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Very many (>125)

Overall Threat Impact: Medium
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Not significantly threatened overall, though urbanization has local impacts, as does excessive harvest. Some populations cannot withstand even minimal exploitation without undergoing a decline in numbers; see Brooks et al. (1988) for brief comments. Nesting females are especially vulnerable to overexploitation. Snapping turtles are vulnerable to high mortality on roads during the nesting season; this mortality could have negative impacts on the sustainability of local populations (Haxton 2000). Exhibits good tolerance of altered habitats.

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)

Long-term Trend:  
Long-term Trend Comments: At least stable, but probably has increased overall due to increases in pond abundance by humans, which may offset local declines.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly to moderately vulnerable.

Environmental Specificity: Moderate to broad.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: None recognized.

Protection Needs: None warranted except in some areas where the species may be overharvested.

Distribution
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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Range extends from southern Alberta eastward across southern Canada to Nova Scotia, and south to the Gulf Coast (Texas to Florida), and west in the United States to the Rocky Mountains. Snapping turtles have been introduced in several places in western North America and eastern Asia.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, AZexotic, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IDexotic, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NVexotic, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UTexotic, VA, VT, WAexotic, WI, WV, WY
Canada BCexotic, MB, NB, NS, ON, QC, SK

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe 2008


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
MN Mille Lacs (27095), Sherburne (27141), St. Louis (27137)
MT Big Horn (30003), Carter (30011), Custer (30017), Dawson (30021), Fallon (30025), Powder River (30075), Rosebud (30087), Wibaux (30109), Yellowstone (30111)
NM Eddy (35015)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
04 Cloquet (04010202)+
07 Clearwater-Elk (07010203)+, Rum (07010207)+
10 Upper Yellowstone-Pompeys Pillar (10070007)+, Little Bighorn (10080016)+, Upper Tongue (10090101)+, Lower Tongue (10090102)+, Little Powder (10090208)+, Lower Powder (10090209)+, Lower Yellowstone-Sunday (10100001)+, Rosebud (10100003)+, Lower Yellowstone (10100004)+, Boxelder (10110202)+, Beaver (10110204)+
13 Upper Pecos-Black (13060011)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A large mostly aquatic turtle, weighing as much as 50 lbs.
General Description: Shell hard, often with attached mud or algae; rear edge of upper shell saw-toothed; tail as long as or longer than carapace, with crest of large bony scales; head large, with hooked jaws; lower shell relatively small, composed of nine shields; limbs strong, with webbed toes and strong claws; maximum upper shell length nearly 50 cm, but usually less than 36 cm. Adult: upper shell relatively smooth, longitudinal ridges not very prominent. Mature male: anal opening farther from base of tail than in female, usually posterior to rear edge of carapace (under rear edge in female); grows to larger size than female. Juvenile: carapace with three longitudinal ridges. Hatchling: carapace rough, with conspicuous ridges, producing a cryptic dead-leaf-like appearance. Eggs: shell moderately pliable, somewhat brittle, with visible pores; 23-35 mm x 22-31 mm (average 28 mm x 27 mm). Source: Hammerson (1999).
Reproduction Comments: Mating may occur any time during the warmer months. Snapping turtles in North America typically nest from late May to early July (mainly in June), but mainly from mid-June to early July in the far north. In dry regions, ground-softening rains often stimulate nesting. Clutch size averages 20-35, sometimes exceeds 100; 1 clutch/year in Michigan. Hatching and emergence from the nest typically occur about 2-3.5 months after laying, from late August to early October (most often in September), but sometimes the young do not emerge from the nest before winter.

Snapping turtles commonly experience low reproductive success due to extensive predation on their eggs, but females produce large clutches and may live and reproduce for several decades, so eventually they produce offspring that join the breeding population. In Michigan, nest survivorship over 17 years ranged from 0 to 64% and averaged 23% (Congdon et al. 1994). In Ontario, growth rate and reproductive output increased with habitat productivity (Brown et al. 1994). In Michigan, minimum reproductive frequency was less than annual (0.85) (Congdon et al. 1994).

Females are sexually mature in about 8 years in Iowa, 10-20 years in Ontario (later in north than in south), 11-16 years in southeastern Michigan (Congdon et al. 1994); also in Ontario, mean age of first nesting estimated at 17-19 years (Galbraith et al. 1989). In Ontario, the mean age of nesting females was estimated at 33-40 years (Brooks et al. 1988, Galbraith and Brooks 1989).

Ecology Comments: In Ontario, males occupied relatively stable, overlapping home ranges; summer range 0.4-2.3 ha (Galbraith et al. 1987). Also in Ontario, July-August foraging home ranges in three sites during one year were 2.3-18.1 ha (means fell between 5 and 9 ha); home range length was about 550-1990 m; home range size did not vary with habitat productivity (Brown et al. 1994). In another Ontario study, home range size over a year was 1.0-28.4 ha, averaging about 9 ha for females and about 2-3 ha for males (Pettit et al. 1995).

Frequently incurs high rates of nest predation (30-100% in Michigan) by various Carnivora (Congdon et al. 1987). See Iverson (1991) for a compilation of survivorship data (egg survival low, not more than 0.22; adult survival generally high, over 0.90). A population in Ontario, Canada, was characterized as stable, with adult female annual survivorship greater than 0.95; later, a great increase in adult mortality occurred, apparently due primarily to otter predation on hibernating turtles; there was no compensatory density-dependent response in reproduction and recruitment (Brooks et al. 1991). In Michigan, actual annual survivorship of juveniles was over 0.65 by age 2 and averaged 0.77 between ages 2 and 12 years; annual survivorship of adult females ranged from 0.88 to 0.97; population stability was most sensitive to changes in adult or juvenile survival and less sensitive to changes in age at sexual maturity, nest survival, or fecundity (Congdon et al. 1994).

Habitat Type: Freshwater
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: Reproductive females may migrate up to several kilometers between permanent water of their usual residence and a nesting area. In Ontario, the maximum distance traveled from the nesting site was 370-2,020 meters (mean 1053 meters); movement were greatest from spring to mid-July (Pettit et al. 1995). Some adults may travel up to a few kilometers between summer range and winter hibernation sites; others hibernate within summer range (Brown and Brooks 1994).
Estuarine Habitat(s): Herbaceous wetland, River mouth/tidal river
Riverine Habitat(s): BIG RIVER, CREEK, Low gradient, MEDIUM RIVER, Moderate gradient, Pool
Lacustrine Habitat(s): Deep water, Shallow water
Palustrine Habitat(s): Bog/fen, FORESTED WETLAND, HERBACEOUS WETLAND, Riparian, SCRUB-SHRUB WETLAND, TEMPORARY POOL
Special Habitat Factors: Benthic, Burrowing in or using soil, Fallen log/debris
Habitat Comments: Snapping turtles occupy all types of freshwater habitats (streams, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, marshes, swamps), especially those with soft mud bottoms and abundant aquatic vegetation or submerged brush and logs. They occur in brackish water in some areas. Usually they are on the bottom but sometimes bask out of water, especially younger individuals and in far north. Hibernation occurs singly or in groups in streams, lakes, ponds, or marshes; in bottom mud, in or under submerged logs or debris, under overhanging bank, or in muskrat tunnel; often in shallow water; sometimes in anoxic sites (Brown and Brooks 1994, Herman et al. 1995). Nesting occurs in soft soil in open areas, often hundreds of meters from water (up to 181 m from permanent water in Michigan, Congdon et al. 1987), sometimes in muskrat houses.
Adult Food Habits: Carnivore, Herbivore, Invertivore, Piscivore
Immature Food Habits: Carnivore, Herbivore, Invertivore, Piscivore
Food Comments: Forages in water; eats many kinds of vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants.
Adult Phenology: Circadian, Hibernates/aestivates
Immature Phenology: Circadian, Hibernates/aestivates
Phenology Comments: In the north, snapping turtles decrease activity in late summer and are relatively inactive in winter, though under-ice movements have been observed. They resume activity usually in April.
Length: 47 centimeters
Economic Attributes
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Economic Comments: Hunted/trapped for meat in some areas. Sometimes regarded as a pest due to predation on young waterfowl.
Management Summary
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Restoration Potential: Population recovery potential is low, due to a lack of an effective density-dependent response in reproduction and recruitment (Brooks et al. 1991).
Management Requirements: Without protection of adults and older juveniles, programs that protect nests and headstart hatchlings have a low probability of success (Congdon et al. 1994). Carefully managed sport harvests of some populations may be sustainable, but "commercial harvests will certainly cause substantial population declines" (Congdon et al. 1994).
Monitoring Requirements: See Tucker (1994, Herpetol. Rev. 25:13) for an easy method for removing turtles from Legler hoop traps.
Biological Research Needs: We need better information on the effects of this species on the fauna of preserves.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Use Class: Not applicable
Subtype(s): Nesting area.
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals (including eggs) in or near appropriate habitat where the species is presumed to be established and breeding.
Mapping Guidance: Occurrences should include known nesting areas and documented upland travel corridors, if any.
Separation Barriers: Busy major highway; untraversable topography (e.g., cliff); urbanized area dominated by buildings and pavement.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 4 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Chelydra serpentina may migrate up to several kilometers between permanent water of usual residence and nesting areas, and some may travel up to a few kilometers between summer range and winter hibernation sites (others hibernate within summer range; Brown and Brooks 1994), but most individuals remain within an area not more than 2 km in maximum length (average around 1 km). For example, in Ontario, the maximum distance traveled from the nesting site was 370-2020 m (mean 1053 m); movements were greatest from spring to mid-July (Pettit et al. 1995). In Ontario, males occupied relatively stable, overlapping home ranges; summer range was 0.4-2.3 ha (Galbraith et al. 1987). Also in Ontario, July-August foraging home ranges in three sites during one year were 2.3-18.1 ha (means fell between 5 and 9 ha); home range length was about 550-1990 m; home range size did not vary with habitat productivity (Brown et al. 1994). In another Ontario study, home range size over a year was 1.0-28.4 ha, averaging about 9 ha for females and about 2-3 ha for males (Pettit et al. 1995). In South Dakota, the mean distance traveled within one year averaged 0.9 km (Hammer 1969). These data suggest that observations of snapping turtles separated by a minimum of 4-5 km of habitat not known to be occupied could represent distinct occurrences whereas observations separated by less than 4 km easily could be part of the same population or at least the same patch of occupied habitat (e.g., if nesting females from two aquatic sites 4 km apart each moved 2 km to a common nesting area midway between the aquatic habitats). However, snapping turtles may inhabit large bodies of water much more than 4-5 km long, and it is likely that such waters harbor only a single population of these vagile turtles; hence the separation distance for suitable habitat should be quite large.
During nesting migrations, snapping turtles often traverse long distances through various kinds of upland habitat to reach suitable nesting areas; this justifies use of a relatively large separation distance for unsuitable habitat.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): 1 km
Date: 21Jul2004
Author: Hammerson, G.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 25Sep2013
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Pague, C. A., and G. Hammerson
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 28Jan2010
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Ashpole, Sara L., C. A. Bishop and R. J. Brooks. 2000. Assessing the survivorship and occurrence of deformities in the common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina serpentina, along a gradient of industrially contaminated sites. Abstracts of the 5th Annual Meeting of Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network, Penticton, British Columbia. 1 pp.

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  • Bishop, C.A., P. Ng, K.E. Pettit, S.W. Kennedy, J.J. Stegeman, R.J. Norstrom, and R.J. Brooks. 1998. Environmental contamination and developmental abnormalities in eggs and hatchlings of the Common Snapping Turtle (CHELYDRA SERPENTINA SERPENTINA) from the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River basin (1989-91).. Environmental Pollution 101: 143-156.

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  • Bobyn, M.L. and R.J. Brooks. 1990. Effects of clutch and incubation environment on sex, survival and mass of embryonic and hatchling snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina). Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of ASIH, held at College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina.

  • Bobyn, M.L. and R.J. Brooks. 1991. Effects of egg size and incubation conditions on survival and growth of hatchling snapping turtles, Chelydra serpentina. Paper presented at Joint Annual Meeting of the 34th Annual Meeting of The SSAR, and The 39th Annual Meeting of The Herpetologists' League, held at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania.

  • Bobyn, M.L. and R.J. Brooks. 1994. Incubation conditions as potential factors limiting the northern distribution of Snapping Turtles, Chelydra serpentina. Canadian Journal of Zoology 72: 28-37.

  • Bobyn, M.L. and R.J. Brooks. 1994. Interclutch and interpopulation variation in the effects of incubation conditions on sex, survial and growth of hatchling turtles (Chelydra serpentina). Journal of Zoology, London 233: 233-257.

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  • Brooks, R. J., G. P. Brown, and D. A. Galbraith. 1991. Effects of a sudden increase in natural mortality of adults on a population of the common snapping turtle (CHELYDRA SERPENTINA). Can. J. Zool. 1314-1320.

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  • Brooks, R.J. and E.G. Nancekivell. 1984. Temperature-dependent sex determination and hatching sex sratio in the Common Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentina. Ontario Ecology and Ethology Colloquium, held at the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario.

  • Brooks, R.J., D.A. Galbraith and J.A. Layfield. 1990. Occurrence of Placobdella parasitica (Hirudinea) on Snapping Turtles, Chelydra serpentina, in southeastern Ontario. Journal of Parasitology 76(2): 190-195.

  • Brooks, R.J., D.A. Galbraith and M.L. Bobyn. 1989. Intraspecific variation in measures of life history in the common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina. Paper presented at the First World Congress of Herpetology, University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom.

  • Brooks, R.J., D.A. Galbraith, and C.A. Bishop. 1986. Reproductive output of nesting females in two Ontario populations of Chelydra serpentina. Joint Meeting of SSAR and Herpetologists' League, held at SW Missouri State University, Springfield, Missouri.

  • Brooks, R.J., E.G. Nancekivell, and D.A. Galbraith. 1986. Adaptive significance of environmental sex determination in Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina). Ontario Ecology and Ethology Colloquium, held 26-27 May 1986, at York University, Toronto, Ontario.

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  • Brooks, R.J., et al. 1986. Variation in threshold temperatures in two Ontario populations of the Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina. Tortugas de Ague Duice Neotropicales. Estacion Biologica "Los Tuxtlas," Ver. 4-8 de Marzo de 1986.

  • Brooks, R.J., et al. 1988. Maternal and environmental influences on growth and survival of embryonic and hatchling Chelydra serpentina. Paper presented at the combined meetings of the HL, AES, ELHS, AFS, SSAR, and ASIH, held at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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  • Congdon, J. D., A. E. Dunham, and R. C. van Loben Sels. 1994. Demographics of common snapping turtles (CHELYDRA SERPENTINA): implications for conservation and management of long-lived organisms. American Zoologist 34:397-408.

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  • Congdon, J. D., et al. 1987. Reproduction and nesting ecology of snapping turtles (CHELYDRA SERPENTINA) in southeastern Michigan. Herpetologica 43:39-54.

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