Easily mistaken for a concrete lump along the river or in your backyard, snapping turtles are Canada’s largest freshwater turtles. With thick, ridged upper shells and long studded tails, this hardy species weighs up to 16 kilograms and grows to 35 centimeters in length. Unable to fully retract into their shells when threatened, snapping turtles snap their toothless jaws in defense. This has earned these creatures their lovely name.
Snapping turtles are omnivorous. They feed on living and dead animal and plant matter. This includes aquatic plants, frogs, snakes and fish. They play an important role in keeping our lakes and wetlands clean.
The species is widespread in eastern Canada, from Southeastern Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia. Manitoba Herps Atlas, a citizen science platform that tracks the province’s reptiles and amphibians, reported 36 observations of the snapping turtles in the past 10 years. These robust reptiles were sighted throughout the province from the forested parklands of the Riding Mountain National Park and Nopiming Provincial Park shield country to Winnipeg neighborhoods such as Royalwood. Fond of slow-moving water and soft mud or sand bottoms, it’s no surprise that this aquatic species has made the Seine River its home.
In 2014, Manitoba joined other Canadian jurisdictions in protecting our most vulnerable turtle populations, by listing snapping turtles and painted turtles as protected animals. In addition to loss of wetland habitat, risks to their health also include sensory disturbance and injury due to road accidents and construction activities. Although they have few natural predators and can live over 70 years, they reach sexual maturity only at 15 to 20 years of age. Death or injury to mature turtles and destruction of their nests, eggs and hatchlings can delay them from achieving a stable population which can take decades to build up.
Michelle Pichette Breault recounted her encounter in late August with some turtles along the Seine River. Denis De Pape, Save Our Seine tour guide, had pointed them out to her. Michelle caught a fast one on video as it headed towards the river straight out of its nest. There were at least 15 hatchlings in the sandy nest close to the trail. As they watched the hatchlings burrow their way out from their nest and make a beeline for the water, Michelle mused on their battle for survival dodging feet and tires on the walkway and ducking for cover as the shadows of hawks loomed ahead.
Video by Michelle Pichette Breault
The Nature Conservancy of Canada has conserved many areas across Canada where snapping turtles occur. One of these is the Interlake Natural Area in Manitoba. Nature Conservancy of Canada and Manitoba Herps Atlas, report turtle sightings to identify sites in need of collective conservation action. Public participation is encouraged. To share turtle sightings, you can visit the Manitoba Herps Atlas or the Nature Conservancy of Canada websites.