Herp Update: Fall Movement of Snapping Turtles – October 5, 2021

Herp Update: Fall Movement of Snapping Turtles – October 5, 2021

One type of fall movement of reptiles is the emergence of baby Snapping Turtles (see Pat Perry’s photo below) from their underground nests.

Baby Snapping Turtle emerging from underground nest in spoil. Photo by Pat Perry and used by permission.

Our other common turtle, the Painted Turtle, lays eggs at about the same time in the spring as Snapping Turtles (May & June), and those eggs hatch in the fall, but the baby Painted Turtles stay in the ground over the winter and emerge the following spring. So the baby turtles you are most likely to see in the fall are Snapping Turtles.

Female Snapping Turtles are also the turtle that travels the farthest from the water to lay its eggs. They have been known to travel over a mile to their favorite egg-laying spots. These egg-laying locations are open and sunny, with minimal vegetation. That often means road margins, gardens, compost piles, and yards.

Looking at our reports of baby snappers emerging from nests here in Vermont, August 29 is our earliest reported date of hatchling emergence, with reports continuing through September and October, and the latest reported date of emergence on November 4. Even after emerging, it may take a while for the young to reach the nearest water.

Larger Snapping Turtles sometimes move in the fall to overwintering locations. Those that are already in a river, pond, or lake with good overwintering conditions may hardly move at all, but others move to inlets, outlets, springs, or other nearby rivers or seepage areas to find a place with moving water or ground water that will not freeze over the winter.

We are interested in any report of emerging turtles of any species from any town in Vermont. Surprisingly, we are still missing photo-documentation of any Snapping Turtles from 39 Vermont towns (see attached list or visit the Data Gaps page and search the table for “snapping”). If you have an old photo, or can get a new photo of Snapping Turtles of any age from any of these towns, please do send us a copy.

It is possible that there are some higher elevation towns in Vermont that have no turtles. For instance, we have visited and placed live traps for turtles in Somerset on a few occasions, but never caught or ever seen a turtle. Perhaps you can be the first.

Jim Andrews

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