Snapping Turtles: Fighting or Mating?

A turtle laying in shallow water.

Snapping Turtles are Super Cool!

If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon two snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) engaging in the water in spring or summer, you might ask yourself: Are they fighting or mating?

Differentiating snapping turtle mating and fighting rituals can be difficult, even for the experts. Mating may appear aggressive, like fighting. And to make things even harder, identifying the sex of turtles isn’t easy either. Both interactions can last for upwards of an hour.

A hand holding a small turtle.
Baby snapping turtles are about 2.5 to 4 inches long.

Snapping turtles often breed in spring, usually before June but they can also breed at other times of the year. Generally, September is the peak time for eggs to hatch, so keep your eyes peeled for babies this time of year!

Males may compete with other males to establish dominance in a territory and fight for a mate.

Turtle laying in a shallow river.
Snapping turtles can live to be over 40 years old.

Male Versus Female

Identifying the sex of the turtles is one way to help differentiate between mating and fighting. Most fighting tends to take place between males. Males are larger than females, however, the best way to tell the difference between males and females is by their body size relative to their tail size. Males have a longer tail relative to its carapace (upper shell) size when compared to females.

Turtle tail sticking out of water.
The size of the tail relative to the upper shell is one of the ways to identify the sex of a snapping turtle.


Males fight by banging up against each other with their bodies upright while tightly gripping each other with their plastrons (the belly side of their shell) pressed together. They then proceed to roll over and over together in the water.

Two turtles with half of their bodies of out of the water facing each other.
Male snapping turtle conflicts can last over an hour.

They also fight by biting, hissing and scratching. Their powerful jaws and long necks are used to swing and bite hard. Their long, strong legs are also used to kick and push the enemy away.

One turtle on top of another turtle's shell.
A male snapping turtle asserts his dominance over another male.


Once a male has finally found a potential mate, he attempts to climb on top of her. This is not an easy task, as the female may try to get away. The male will grip onto the female’s carapace with all four feet and hold on tightly.

Overall, mating tends to be a gentler interaction than fighting. People seldom see snapping turtles mating because it can occur partially under water. Getting a glimpse of a conflict between two snappers is also rare because they are generally tolerant of each other, especially outside of the breeding season. However, it can occur at any time during their active season.

Video of snapping turtles fighting taken by CVC’s Dan Schuurman

Turtles are an important part of ecosystems. Snapping turtles are a species of concern in Ontario. Help keep them safe. Keep an eye out while driving on roads near wetlands, streams and ponds which are more likely to have turtles crossing.

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By Stephanie Donison, Assistant, Natural Heritage Inventory

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