difference between box turtle and snapping turtle



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Delving into the world of turtles, one may find themselves pondering the distinction between two commonly encountered species: the box turtle and the snapping turtle. While both are intriguing and have their own unique qualities, it is essential to understand the key differences to properly care for and appreciate these creatures. Box turtles, known for their distinctive hinged shell, are known to be land-dwelling and are often kept as pets. On the other hand, the notoriously aggressive snapping turtles are typically found in bodies of water, where they hunt for prey with their powerful jaws. Understanding the differences in habitat, behavior, and appearance is crucial for those seeking to gain a deeper appreciation for these fascinating reptiles.

Key Takeaways:

  • Physical Appearance: Box turtles are distinguishable by their dome-shaped carapace and hinged plastron, while snapping turtles have a rough, keel-shaped carapace and powerful jaws for snapping.
  • Habitat: Box turtles prefer terrestrial environments, while snapping turtles are mostly aquatic and can be found in freshwater ponds, streams, and marshes.
  • Diet: Box turtles are omnivores, feeding on plants, fruits, and small animals, while snapping turtles are carnivorous and primarily feed on fish, amphibians, and small mammals.

Physical Characteristics

If you are looking to identify a turtle species, the physical characteristics can be a good place to start. Both box turtles and snapping turtles have distinct physical features that set them apart from each other. Understanding these differences can help you to correctly identify which type of turtle you are encountering.

Shell Shape and Size

When it comes to shell shape and size, box turtles have a more domed shell compared to the flatter, more streamlined shell of snapping turtles. Box turtles also have a hinge at the bottom of their shell, allowing them to completely close up for protection. The average size of an adult box turtle is about 5-7 inches long, although they can grow larger in some cases.

Head and Limb Features

Box turtles and snapping turtles also have distinct differences in their head and limb features. Box turtles have a distinctive, box-like jaw with a beak for eating various foods. They also have webbed feet, suitable for both terrestrial and aquatic environments. On the other hand, snapping turtles have powerful jaws and a pointed, elongated head. Their front feet have long claws, well-suited for their primarily aquatic lifestyle.

Habitat and Distribution

Some of the differences between box turtles and snapping turtles can be observed in their natural habitat and geographical distribution. Understanding where these two species prefer to live can help to distinguish between them.

Natural Habitats of Box Turtles

Box turtles are commonly found in deciduous forests, grasslands, and wet meadows. They prefer habitats with moist soil and access to water sources, such as ponds or streams. Box turtles are known for their ability to adapt to various environments, but they typically thrive in areas with moderate humidity and vegetation. They spend most of their time on land but are often found near water, as they require it for drinking and soaking. Box turtles hibernate during the winter and are often seen burrowing in the soil or finding shelter under leaf litter. Their preference for a diverse habitat allows them to feed on a variety of plants, insects, and small invertebrates.

Geographic Range of Snapping Turtles

Snapping turtles are primarily found in freshwater habitats, including ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes. They tend to prefer slow-moving or still water with muddy bottoms, where they can burrow and seek refuge. They have a wide geographic range, inhabiting bodies of water across North America. Snapping turtles are particularly versatile in their habitat selection and can also be found in brackish water, such as estuaries and coastal marshes. They are known for their aggressive nature and powerful jaws, making them top predators within their aquatic ecosystems. Despite their adaptability, snapping turtles are most commonly associated with the eastern part of the United States, where they can be found basking on logs or lurking in the shallows.

Behavior and Life Cycle

Despite their physical differences, both box turtles and snapping turtles exhibit unique behaviors and life cycles. Understanding these differences can help turtle enthusiasts provide proper care for each species.

Feeding Habits and Diet

Box turtles are omnivores, meaning they consume both plant and animal matter. Their diet consists of fruits, vegetables, insects, worms, and even small vertebrates. On the other hand, snapping turtles are carnivorous and primarily feed on fish, amphibians, and other aquatic creatures. Their powerful jaws and sharp beaks allow them to efficiently catch and consume prey in their natural habitat.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Box turtles reach sexual maturity between 7 and 10 years of age, and they typically mate in the spring. They lay eggs in well-concealed nests, and the temperature at which the eggs are incubated determines the sex of the offspring. Snapping turtles, on the other hand, reach sexual maturity between 11 and 16 years old. They are known for their lengthy lifespan, with some individuals living for several decades in the wild. However, they face numerous threats, including habitat destruction and road mortality, which can impact their overall population and lifespan.

Conservation Status and Human Impact

For both box turtles and snapping turtles, their conservation status is a cause for concern. Human impact has led to habitat destruction, pollution, and overharvesting, resulting in declining population numbers for both species. It is important to understand the threats they face and the conservation efforts being made to protect these important reptiles.

Threats to Box and Snapping Turtles

Box turtles and snapping turtles face a myriad of threats from human activity. Habitat loss due to urbanization, agriculture, and industrial development has significantly reduced their natural habitats. Pollution from pesticides and other chemicals also poses a serious threat, as it contaminates the water and soil on which these turtles depend. Additionally, both species are often victims of road mortality, as they frequently fall prey to vehicle collisions when trying to cross roads. Illegal collection for the pet trade and overhunting also contribute to their declining populations.

Conservation Efforts and Legal Protections

Conservation efforts are underway to protect both box turtles and snapping turtles. Many organizations and government agencies are working to preserve and restore their habitats, as well as raise awareness about the importance of these species. In some regions, laws and regulations have been put in place to limit the collection and trade of these turtles. Education and outreach programs are also being implemented to inform the public about the significance of conserving these reptiles and the actions individuals can take to help protect them.


Presently, it is evident that the box turtle and the snapping turtle are two distinct species with notable differences. The box turtle is known for its highly domed carapace and ability to fully close its shell, while the snapping turtle has a rugged and bumpy shell with a long tail and powerful jaws. Additionally, the box turtle tends to be more terrestrial, while the snapping turtle is predominately aquatic. Understanding these differences is crucial for both enthusiasts and researchers to properly identify and appreciate these fascinating creatures in their natural habitats.


Q: What is the difference between a box turtle and a snapping turtle?

A: Box turtles are land-dwelling turtles with domed shells, while snapping turtles are aquatic turtles with rough shells and long tails. Additionally, box turtles have hinged shells that allow them to close themselves off entirely, while snapping turtles cannot fully tuck into their shell.

Q: How can I distinguish between a box turtle and a snapping turtle?

A: One key way to distinguish between the two is by their habitat. Box turtles are commonly found in wooded and grassy areas, while snapping turtles are typically found in freshwater ponds, rivers, and streams. Additionally, box turtles have bright patterns and colors on their skin, while snapping turtles have dark, rough skin.

Q: Are there any differences in behavior between box turtles and snapping turtles?

A: Yes, there are significant differences in behavior. Box turtles are generally shy and withdrawn, while snapping turtles are known for their aggressive and territorial nature. Box turtles are also primarily herbivores, feeding on fruits, berries, and plants, while snapping turtles are omnivores and will eat fish, insects, and small mammals.

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