Turtles (Chelonii or Testudines)
Turtles are reptiles, known for their hard shell that develops from their rib cage that they use as protection. Turtles are ectotherms ( also known as cold- blooded, meaning they are the same temperature as their surroundings), breathe air, and do not lay their eggs underwater. They do not have teeth but horny ridges along their upper and lower jaws. Turtles have roamed the earth for 220 million years, making them one of the oldest groups to have lived on the planet. They are more ancient than lizards, snakes or crocodiles. Many of the species around the world today are highly endangered from habitat destruction, pollution, and over hunting. The two species listed below are common to Iowa, though there are many other found throughout the state.

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Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentine):

Baby Common Snapping Turtle The Common Snapping Turtle lives in fresh or brackish, somewhat salty, water. They are found in shallow ponds, shallow lakes or streams. They enjoy bodies of water with muddy bottoms and high amounts of vegetation to allow for hiding. Snapping Turtles are not known for basking at the surface of the water or out of the water. They are found all over the Eastern United States all the way to the Rocky mountains and as far north as the Canadian border. These snapping turtles spend most of their time in water, coming onto land only to lay their eggs.

To lay their eggs, Snapping Turtles will travel extensively over land to find a suitable place. Eggs are laid in sandy soil and 20-40 eggs are laid at one time. These eggs hatch after 80 to 90 days. They grow up to 8.5 inches long, weigh roughly 45 pounds, and can live for 30 years.

Common Snapping Turtle Common Snapping Turtles are known for their belligerent dispositions, particularly out of the water. Unfortunately, the eggs and hatchlings are at the most risk of being attacked by predators such as crows, skunks, raccoons, fox, bull frogs, and large-mouth bass. These turtles are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. Their prey includes small mammals, insects, aquatic plants, and amphibians.

The reason they are called snapping turtles is because they are the only type of turtles who can snap or bite. They cannot hide in their shells like other turtles because they are too large so snapping is their defense mechanism. They rarely bite however, usually fleeing when threatened.

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Eastern Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta picta)
The Eastern Painted Turtle is known for their distinctive shells and yellow striped heads. The are one of the most common turtles in the area. Eastern Painted Turtles live in fresh water lakes, ponds, and slow-moving streams. They prefer bodies of water with plenty of logs, rocks and plants to climb out on. This is important to the painted turtles because they are cold-blooded and climb out of the water to warm up their bodies in the sun. They often do this in large groups. This not only warms their bodies but gets rid of parasites, such as leeches, that don’t like the sun. This species of turtle does hibernate in the winter.

Eastern Painted Turtle Eastern Painted Turtles lay their eggs around May or June. The female turtle digs a hole in sandy soil in a warm, sunny place and lays 2-20 eggs. Like the Common Snapping Turtle, this is one of the only times the turtles leave the water. The eggs hatch after 70 to 80 days. The sex of the baby turtles is determined by the temperature of the nest. The colder the nest, the more males there will be, while warmer nests will produce more females. They grow to be 4.5- 6 inches long. Some of their predators include raccoons, larger turtles, crows, hawks, skunks, and fox which feed mostly on the eggs and hatchlings. They, too, are omnivores, eating algae, other aquatic plants, insects, frogs, small fish, and carrion (dead animal flesh).