Temporal range: 70.6–0 Ma
Late Cretaceous to Recent
Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
clade: Polycryptodira
Family: Chelydridae
Gray, 1831

Chelydridae is a family of turtles which has seven extinct and two extant genera. The extant genera are Chelydra the snapping turtles, and its larger relative Macrochelys, of which the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is the only species. Both are endemic to the Western Hemisphere. The extinct genera are Acherontemys, Chelydrops, Chelydropsis, Emarginachelys, Macrocephalochelys, Planiplastron, and Protochelydra.

Two-year-old captive-raised snapping turtle from Pennsylvania


Fossil history

The Chelydridae have a long fossil history, with extinct species reported from North America, all over Asia and Europe, far outside its present range. The earliest described chelydrid is Emarginachelys cretacea, known from well preserved fossils from the Maastrichtian stage of the Late Cretaceous of Montana. Another well preserved fossil chelydrid is the Late Paleocene Protochelydra zangerli from North Dakota. The carapace of Protochelydra is higher domed than that of the recent Chelydra, a trait conjectured to be associated with the coexistence of large, chelonivorous (i.e., turtle-eating) crocodilians. Another genus, Chelydropsis, contains several well known Eurasian chelydrid species that existed from the Oligocene to the Pliocene.

Classification of known genera

  • Family Chelydridae
    • Genus Acherontemys
    • Genus Chelydra – common snapping turtles
    • Genus †Chelydrops
    • Genus †Chelydropsis
    • Genus †Emarginachelys
    • Genus †Macrocephalochelys
    • Genus Macrochelys – Alligator Snapping Turtle
    • Genus †Planiplastron
    • Genus †Protochelydra

Past classification

The Chelydrinae subfamily is no longer used. The monotypic Asian genus Platysternon has at times been included in this group.


  • de Broin, F. 1969. Contribution a l’etude des cheloniens. Cheloniens continentaux du Cretace Superieur et du Tertiaire de France. Memoires du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. Vol. C, No. XXVIII
  • Ericson, B. R. 1973. A new chelydrid turtle (Protochelydra zangerli), from the late Paleocene of North Dakota. Scientific Publications of the Science Museum of Minnesota, New Series 2(2):1-16
  • Gaffney, E. S. 1975. Phylogeny of the chelydrid turtles: a study of shared derived characters in the skull. Fieldiana Geology, 33:157-178
  • Parham, J. F., C.R. Feldman, and J. R. Boore. The complete mitochondrial genome of the enigmatic bigheaded turtle (Platysternon): description of unusual genomic features and the reconciliation of phylogenetic hypotheses based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. BMC Evol Biol. 2006; 6: 11. Published online February 7, 2006. doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-6-11.
  • Whetstone, K. N. 1978. A new genus of cryptodiran turtles (Testudinoidea, Chelydridae) from the Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation of Montana. University of Kansas Science Bulletin. Lawrence, Kansas. 51(17):539-563.

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