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Snapping Turtles Entering Hibernation

10-22-18 snapper IMG_5801Most Snapping Turtles have entered hibernation by late October. To hibernate, they burrow into the debris or mud bottom of ponds or lakes, settle beneath logs, or retreat into muskrat burrows or lodges.  Once a pond is frozen over, how do they breathe with ice preventing them from coming up for air?

Because turtles are ectotherms, or cold-blooded, their body temperature is the same as their surroundings.  The water at the bottom of a pond is usually only a few degrees above freezing.  Fortunately, a cold turtle in cold water/mud has a slow metabolism.  The colder it gets, the slower its metabolism, which means there is less and less of a demand for energy and oxygen as temperatures fall – but there is still some.

When hibernating, Snapping Turtles rely on stored energy.  They acquire oxygen from pond water moving across the surface of their body, which is highly vascularized.  Blood vessels are particularly concentrated near the turtle’s tail, allowing the Snapper to obtain the necessary amount of oxygen to stay alive without using its lungs.

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7 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    That’s a good sized Snapper!

    October 22, 2018 at 8:25 am

  2. Most interesting.


    October 22, 2018 at 8:32 am

  3. Kathie Fiveash

    I love this ghostly picture.

    October 22, 2018 at 8:37 am

  4. Thanks for this explanation of how vertebrates with lungs can survive for months under water. Is body surface being “highly vascularized” also true for frogs?

    October 22, 2018 at 10:18 am

    • I would assume so, but frogs tend to just lie on the bottom of a pond, rather than burrow into it, so they might not be as vascularized as turtles (?). Great question!

      October 22, 2018 at 6:05 pm

  5. Peggy Timmerman

    Wow, so cool! Thank you for digging into all these minute details about the world around us. Nature is so inspiring!

    October 22, 2018 at 3:25 pm

  6. Jean Harrison

    Frogs can breathe through their skin in air, if their skin is moist, and underwater.

    October 22, 2018 at 9:03 pm

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