Oneida Lake Education Initiative

"Your gateway to understanding Oneida Lake"


  • 15 species of land turtles in New York State
  • Common snapping turtle and painted turtle are the most abundant species in Oneida Lake
  • The painted turtle is small and colorful, the snapping turtle is the largest turtle in the state


Fifteen species of land turtles are found in New York State, but the common snapping turtle (Chelydra s. serpentine, left photo) and the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta, right photo) are the two most abundant in Oneida Lake. Other species that may live in Oneida Lake include: the Wood Turtle (Clemmys insculpta), the Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus), the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata), and maybe the Eastern Redbelly Turtle (Pseudemys rubriventris).


In New York the common snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle, with a shell measuring up to 19 inches and 70 pounds. The top of the shell, or carapace, is dark in color and is serrated along the back edge. The bottom shell is smaller than that of most other turtles, leaving a lot of flesh exposed. Common snapping turtles are found in a variety of water systems, from large lakes, rivers, and marshes, to small farm ponds, salt marshes, and the Erie Canal. Snappers prefer slow-moving, shallow water with a muddy bottom. They eat nearly anything that can fit into their mouths, including invertebrates, birds, fish, carrion, smaller turtles, muskrats, frogs, plants, and even ducks. Females leave the water in early summer to locate nesting sites, but pregnant females are often hit by cars when crossing roads along the way. Once a nest is built, females lay between 20 and 80 ping pong ball-shaped eggs before returning to the water (center photo). Although many people eat snapping turtles, care should be taken because toxins and pollutants in their prey accumulate in these turtles. If one fish ingests a small amount of toxin and a snapper eats five fish, the turtle now has five times as much toxin as each fish.


The other common turtle in New York State and on Oneida Lake is the painted turtle. Painted turtles are much smaller than snapping turtles, and only grow to around 6 inches along the shell. They have colorful yellow and red stripes on the head and limbs, and have a smooth dark top shell with yellow and red borders. The bottom shell is bright yellow, and, depending on the sub-species, may have dark colored blotches. Painted turtles spend most of their lives in the water, but are commonly seen basking on partly-submerged logs or rocks on warm summer days. Their diet usually consists of fish and animal parts, but they eat algae and plants as well.



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