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Chelydridae Facts

Size 10-29 in (25-75 cm)
Speed Up to 2.4 mph (4 km/h)
Weight 10-176 lb (4.5-80 kg)
Lifespan Up to 30 years
Food Fish, birds, frogs
Predators Raccoons, alligators
Habitat USA, Central and South America, Canada
Class Reptiles
Order Turtles
Family Chelydridae
Scientific name Chelydridae
Characteristics Known for being aggressive

Main Characteristics

Chelydridae are big and strong snapping turtles that originally came from America and live in slow-flowing waters.

Chelydridae Chelydridae - Photo: Sista Vongjintanaruks/Shutterstock


What Do Chelydridae Have in Common With Alligators?

The strong jaw, the long neck and the ribs on the turtle shell may remind you of an alligator (see the photo of the dark turtle on the lawn). This is why they are called alligtor turtle in German.


Chelydridae Chelydridae - Photo: Sista Vongjintanaruks/Shutterstock


Chelydridae Snap

Chelydridae are snapping turtles. When feeling threatened they cannot retreat into their shell for protection. So they have developed a strong jaw to be able to bite their enemies. Unlike other turtles they snap their prey, which is why they are called snapping turtles.

Chelydridae Are Dangerous to Humans

Chelydridae are known to be aggressive – especially among each other. When they are feeling cornered, they might also attack humans. Sometimes they are kept as pets and are abandoned when they are getting too big or difficult to keep. Then they often find a new home in a bathing lake nearby. You cannot perceive the turtle while swimming with your head up, because it usually stays below the water surface. As it happens, people sometimes unintentionally get too close to the turtles and suffer from bite accidents, which are also quite frequently covered by the media.

Chelydridae Chelydridae - Photo: Andrea J Smith/


Chelydridae are categorized into two genera:


Common snapping turtle

  • Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Weight: up to 33 lb (15 kg)
  • Size: about 20 in (50 cm)

Alligator snapping turtle

  • Alligator snapping turtle
  • Scientific Name: Macrochelys temminckii
  • Weight: 176 lb (80 kg)
  • Size: 30 in (75 cm)

The alligator snapping turtle has a special hunting method: It uses its tongue as fishing bait. The turtle lurks in the mud on the ground of a lake and moves its wormlike tongue in the water. Fish mistake it for a delicious worm, come closer and ... snap ... are being caught in the mouth of the turtle.

Chelydridae Chelydridae - Photo: Noella Kim/Shutterstock

Anatomy and Appearance

The Heaviest Freshwater Turtle in the World

The alligator snapping turtle is the heaviest freshwater turtle. There are even reports of a turtle that is said to have reached a weight of 403 lb (183 kg), but this has not been confirmed officially. In general, the turtles do not get heavier than 176 lb (80 kg).


Chelydridae become mature at an age of about twelve years. After having mated, the female turtle lays 10-50 eggs. It takes about two months until the young turtles hatch.

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