Snapping Turtles: Common Duck Predators

Learn How to Keep Your Flock Safe

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by Erin Snyder
PHOTO: A large snapping turtle looks up from the murky waters of a Virginia marsh. By Gary Riegel

Snapping turtles are one of a backyard duck’s most feared and deadly predators, living in ponds, streams, and other bodies of water and preying on ducklings and adult ducks. Discover everything you need to know about snapping turtles, including their habitat and hunting behaviors, to help protect your ducks from these underwater killers.

What Are Snapping Turtles?

The snapping turtle group consists of three species: the Common Snapping Turtle, the Alligator Snapping Turtle, and the Suwannee Alligator Snapping Turtle.

The Common Snapping Turtle is not only the most common but also the most aggressive. These slow-moving reptiles are omnivores (meaning they eat plants and meat), feast on ducklings, and inflict severe damage on adult ducks. Snappers are dangerous for waterfowl and can also be aggressive to other livestock, pets, and even humans.

Snapping Turtle Identity

Snapping turtles are easily recognized by their large size, long tails, and scowling faces. Their color varies from tan to black, although most snappers have a dark-colored carapace (the upper shell). The shell is often rough looking instead of the smooth carapace other turtle species sport. Young snappers’ shells usually display three ridges on the lower back that disappear as the turtle matures.

The snapping turtle’s long tail, which often exceeds the length of the carapace, is another way to easily distinguish this species from harmless turtles.

Snappers are large turtles measuring eight to fourteen inches long and weighing between ten and forty-five pounds.

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The final way to recognize these reptiles is by their large head, neck, and hooked jaw, which gives the turtle the appearance of frowning.

Habitat

The snapping turtle can often be found swimming in the dark, murky waters just below the surface of a pond. As aquatic reptiles, snappers spend nearly their entire life in the water.

One of the most interesting things about snapping turtles is that they aren’t picky about the water they live in. It can be found in almost any permanent or semi-permanent body of water, including creeks, marshes, bogs, ponds, lakes, streams, and even your inground pool!

Diet

The snapping turtle is an omnivore, consuming both plants and meat. One-third of their diet is comprised of aquatic plants, including water lilies, duckweed, algae, and pondweed. The other two-thirds consists of meat, including insects, spiders, frogs, invertebrates, ducks (ducklings and adults), birds, fish, carrion, and small turtles.

Hunting Behaviors

Snapping turtles hunt beneath the water just below the surface of ponds, streams, and other waterways. As ducks swim through the waters, their dangling feet and legs make them an easy target for snapping turtles to grab.

While ducklings are at the most risk of being killed by a snapper, it is not uncommon for adult ducks to lose feet and legs from a turtle attack. While it is less common, snapping turtles can also kill and eat an adult duck.

Although snapping turtles are more likely to attack ducks on the water, they can also attack on land, especially if they feel threatened.

Is My Pond Safe?

The tricky thing about snapping turtles is that just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t residing in a pond or the nearby marsh. These reptiles rarely leave their calling cards, so many duck owners do not realize they have taken up residence until their flock has been attacked.

Snapping turtles are also known for traveling up to ten miles to find a new territory to lay eggs and raise their young.

Protecting Your Duck Flock

Protecting ducks from a snapping turtle attack is easy if you keep them off ponds and out of marshes, creeks, and streams.

While ducks need water to stay clean and parasite-free, many duck owners prefer to offer kiddie pools or stock tanks for a safer swimming alternative. (When raising ducklings, always provide the young with a kiddie pool to ensure the safety of the ducklings from a predator attack.)

Pond Safety

If you still desire to provide your flock with a pond, there are some safety tips you can employ to keep your flock safe.

Before allowing ducks out on the pond, always ensure that the pond and the surrounding area are free of snapping turtles.

Keep the perimeter around the pond trimmed to prevent turtle hiding spots. This will make them easier to spot.

Install ¾ inch fencing around the pond’s perimeter to keep baby and adult snapping turtles from accessing the pond and your flock. The fencing should stand two feet high to prevent turtles from attempting to scale the fence.

While the fencing size may seem extreme for adult snappers, baby snapping turtles are only one inch wide and can fit through small gaps. Check fencing frequently for weak spots or holes.

If a snapping turtle is spotted, remove ducks from the area immediately. Snapping turtles can live up to thirty years, so chances are they won’t be moving on anytime soon.

Check with your local fish and wildlife officials before eradicating snapping turtles from your property.

While the snapping turtle is a natural predator of ducks, you can prevent your flock from falling prey with knowledge and careful planning.

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