Snapping Turtle Care

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snapping turtle care

Snapping turtles are typically docile in water, but when captured or trapped out of the water, they may strike violently, so learning how to handle them is just as essential as knowing how to take care of them.

Snapping turtles are a big investment. Snapping turtles are one of the most adorable creatures when they’re little hatchlings.

Many people become dissatisfied with their pets as they get older and more aggressive. As they get bigger, many well-intentioned persons find them more of a bother.

In this article, we will discuss the differences between the two types of snapping turtles, how to properly take care of them, and how to handle a snapping turtle should it become necessary.

About Snapping Turtles

common snapping turtle
Common snapping turtle

The common snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles are two types of turtles that belong to the superfamily Chelydroidea.

In the wild, they’re most common in ponds, canals, and streams, where they prefer slower-moving and shallow water. Snappers may be located living on the banks of deeper lakes or rivers.

Snapping turtles, despite their huge appearance, are excellent swimmers because of their exceptional leg muscles. Unlike other turtles, however, they don’t spend much time swimming.

They enjoy hiding and hunting for animals or fish from a chosen, well-camouflaged vantage point if they are not active. As a result, snappers prefer murky bottomed areas with driftwood and vegetation – an ideal hideout.

Snapping turtles found in northern and eastern parts of North America hibernate in winter. They are very hardy animals and are even observed walking under ice.


The size of snapping turtles’ females and males is almost the same. The tail structure differs between sexes, with the male snapper’s tail being longer, thicker, and the vent is positioned farther from the plastron edge than that of the female snapper.

The female’s plastron is also broader and flatter in shape, with less rotational curvature than the male’s. The bridges that connect the plastron and carapace are shallower in males, presumably allowing them to cling onto the female’s carapace during copulation.

Differences Between Common and Alligator Snapping Turtles

Common Versus Alligator Snapping Turtle
Common Versus Alligator Snapping Turtle

Both groups of snapping turtles have a unique prehistoric appearance and feel about them, which has led to frequent mistakes when it comes to identifying them.

There are, however, significant distinctions between the two species that may be recognized even by an inexperienced eye.

The main key identification between the two snapping turtles are the following:

Common Snapping TurtleAlligator Snapping Turtle
Supramarginal scutes are absent.Supramarginal scutes are present.
Eyes are inclined towards the top of the heat.Eyes are located on the sides of the head
Has no lure on the base of the mouth.Has a fishing lure on the floor of the mouth
The eyes have no fleshy “eyelashes”.The eyes have fleshy “eyelashes”
The shell is much smoother.The shell has three distinctive ridges with a distinctly bumpy feel
From an above view of the turtle the head is more oval.From the above view the turtle has a triangular pointed head

Common Snapping Turtle

The 4 common snapping turtles are found on both the North American and South American continents:

  1. The Northern snapping turtle is a large species that can be found in Southern and Eastern Canada, as well as the eastern two-thirds of the United States.
  2. The Florida snapping turtle is a type of turtle that can only be found in the United States in southern Georgia and Florida.
  3. The Mexican snapping turtle is found in Mexico, from central Veracruz to the south, through Guatemala, and into the Caribbean region of Honduras.
  4. The Ecuadorian snapping turtle can be found in northern Honduras, eastern Nicaragua, Costa Rica to Panama. They can also be found in the Pacific region of Colombia and Ecuador. They live all the way down to the Gulf of Guayaquil.

Common Snapping Turtle Appearance

4 species of common snapping turtles
4 species of common snapping turtles

The snapping turtle is easily identifiable because of its primitive looks. It has three pronounced ridges on its carapace that almost disappear with age. The color can be black, brown, tan, or olive. The plastron is greatly reduced and usually yellowish throughout the turtle’s life.

The skin is usually black, grey, brown, tan, olive, or yellow (tends to be considerably brighter on the underside).

The head is rather large, with dorsally positioned eyes and jaws that are powerful. The jaw is usually cream or yellow, with black marks on it, and there are a pair of barbels on the chin.

In most snappers, the black pattern on the eyes resembles a cross and may be observed from above. The neck is long and thick, with numerous tubercles on top and around it. A snapping turtle can reach its back as far as half of the length of its carapace while “snapping.”

The legs are extremely robust, huge, heavily scaled, and webbed while at the same time the turtle appears to be “too little” for its shell, and it is unable to totally withdraw it.

The tail is longer than the carapace and has three raws of scales on it. The middle one, which is rather prominent in some individuals, contributes to the snapping turtles’ resemblance to dinosaurs.

Common Snapping Turtle Size

By about 2 years of age, a typical common snapper will have grown to around 5 to 6 inches in length.

After that, the growth rate slows somewhat, but the snappers continue to grow gradually until they reach a maximum shell length of around 12 to 14 inches after 15-20 years.

It has been reported that they may reach up to 19 inches in length and weigh up to 86 pounds.

Common Snapping Turtle Lifespan

It’s difficult to say how long snapping turtles can live in the wild, but they maybe survive for 30 years or more. Their life expectancy in captivity appears to improve and it is thought that they may live up to 45 or 50 years.

Common Snapping Turtle Behavior

When defending itself, the common snapping turtle may be described as violently aggressive. The snapper shoots its head forward with tremendous speed when picked up or harmed, revealing a gaping mouth.

When the neck reaches its full length, the jaws snap shut with a thunderous clack, and if it snags something it doesn’t let go easily. The snapper’s bite is strong, and because their jaws are designed to chop rather than crush, even a little one can harm. Larger snappers have no trouble ripping off a person’s fingers.

Snappers are defensive when they perceive a threat, but they are actually quite timid animals that prefer to flee as quickly as possible.

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Unlike the typical snapping turtles, the alligator snapping turtle is a full species with no subspecies.

The alligator snapping turtle is only found in the Southern United States. It can be found from Southern Georgia to Northern Florida, West to Central Texas, and up to the north in Southwest Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, and the Mississippi Valley. Their range is wider than the Florida snapping turtle, but they are similar.

The alligator snapping turtles were hunted for their meat by humans. Their populations decreased because of this.

They were once listed as an endangered species, but their populations have increased in recent years so the restrictions have been eased off.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Appearance

Alligator Snapping Turtle Appearance
Alligator Snapping Turtle Appearance

The alligator snapping turtle is one of the most distinctive-looking reptiles. They have a very ancient appearance, even more than other snappers. They are also distinguished by one unusual trait, which makes them the only turtles in the world to possess it.

The name ‘alligator snapper’ is most likely derived from their appearance, which has a spikey look about it that reminds one of an alligator’s coat. Their mouths are generally open wide, which contributes to the connection people have between them and alligators.

The carapace has three longitudinally running keels that are distinct and prominent. Under each scute, they are enhanced with knobs or tubercles, which smooth out or wear down with time.

The alligator snapper’s plastron is proportionately smaller than that of other turtle species. Their necks are not as long as those of common snappers, and they have a lot of elongated and spike-like tubercles.

They have eyes that are on the sides of their heads rather than at the top, as is true in common snappers.

The fleshy pinkish worm-like lure at the bottom of the alligator snapping turtle’s mouth is the most remarkable and distinguishing feature. They lay motionless with their mouths open, wiggling this organ to attract fish while hunting. The turtle clamps its jaws shut once the trout enters the trap, pinning it with its hooked beak-like teeth.

The alligator snappers grow to be enormous in size. They have exceptional leg strength and their tails are also rather lengthy, exceeding those of the typical snappers.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Size

The alligator snapping turtles are the largest turtle species in North America and are often quoted as the largest freshwater turtle in the world.

The alligator snapping turtle can grow to about 31 inches in carapace length and reach over 200 pounds.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Lifespan

The alligator snapping turtles are among the longest-living reptiles on Earth.

They do not compare to the Galapagos tortoises in terms of longevity, but they do surpass many other turtles and reptiles in general as well as mammals and other animals. They are a slow-growing species that may live up to 100 years old.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Behavior

The alligator snapping turtle is a solitary species. You won’t find the same level of interaction with common snappers that you will with alligator snapping turtles. They like to spend time alone in isolated locations.

Unlike common snapping turtles, alligator snappers only leave the water to lay eggs. For the rest of their lives, they stay submerged in the water. They are truly aquatic creatures just like sea turtles.

These turtles are docile by nature. They, like other snappers, prefer to be left alone and will never attack humans.

RELATED READ: How Much Does a Turtle Cost?

Buying A Snapping Turtle

Baby snapping turtle
Baby snapping turtle

Before deciding to buy a turtle or any other pet animal, consider the following questions:

  • Is it legal to own the desired pet where you live?
  • Will your health condition let you keep the kind of pet you want?
  • Do you have enough money to support and care for the desired pet?
  • Do you have time to tend to its needs?

If you’ve answered yes to all of the above questions, I think it’s perfectly fine to spend your money and acquire the pet of your dreams right now!

When purchasing a turtle, you should go to an authorized dealer who sells captive-bred and raised specimens acquired from an authorized breeder or directly from the breeder.

Turtles that are wild-caught and not rescued should not be kept at home.

Turtles that are farmed in captivity are being treated like livestock. The turtle population is being destroyed and moved toward extinction as a result of purchasing them from pet shops.

When purchasing a turtle, it’s important to find one that is in excellent health. The following are some things to look for when buying a turtle:

  • Has a healthy shell and skin
  • Doesn’t have shell rot or fungus
  • The turtle’s eyes should be clear
  • When picked up, the animal should react instantly (depends on the species; trying to bite, flee, or withdraw into the shell)

After you buy a turtle, it’s important to get it home as soon as possible. The temperature should be set correctly and the turtle should begin its typical turtle life after two or three days of getting used to its new surroundings.

If a person isn’t planning on keeping the snapper beyond its juvenile stage, they should not buy it.

RELATED READ: How to Set Up a Turtle Tank

Snapping Turtle Care Sheet

Common snapping turtle observing

Snappers grow quickly, becoming huge and unruly in a short amount of time, and require a long-term commitment on the part of the keeper.

1. Housing

When it comes to choosing the right tank for a snapping turtle, you should go for one that will last at least a few years, but the greatest thing you can do for yourself is to purchase a larger tank from the start.

A 20-gallon aquarium should last for approximately two years if the snapping turtle is in its juvenile state, but as a rule of thumb, the larger tank is preferable.

A snapping turtle requires a tank that is 100 gallons or larger since it grows to be quite big. For many years, a tank of this volume would make a nice home for the reptile.

Most of the money should be spent on a decent tank and water filter, as with little limitation to space and cash, turtle habitat construction should primarily be concerned with the available space and financial constraints.

RELATED READ: The Best Turtle Tanks

2. Setting Up The Tank Decorations

Snapping turtles are powerful creatures. Even when viewing a newborn snapping turtle, its robust limbs with well-developed muscles become apparent.

They may stay calm in the tank for a long time, but when they do move, they go at it like a bulldozer, pushing and rearranging everything to get to their chosen location and fit their needs as effectively as possible.

With very young snapping turtles, there is little to worry about when it comes to stones and driftwood. They will hide among the leaves and climb up from time to time to bask. However, once they grow larger, for example, at 5 – 6 inches long, the snapper will not be able to move any decorations in the tank.

The enclosure, on the other hand, should as closely resemble their natural habitat as possible. Snappers need hiding places in order to feel at ease.

There are a few options for dealing with it. One option would be to purchase or build a tank that is big enough to contain enough decorations so the snappers will not be able to move it.

In this scenario, the driftwood could be attached to the tank with a rope, bolt, silicone, or a mix of all three. There should still be some bigger and smaller pieces fluttering on the surface – snappers do indeed like hiding!

A set of round pebbles, smaller and larger ones in the center, and a few larger submerged rocks around the perimeter would be nice.

I would not advise anyone to put any water plants in their tank, as the turtle will destroy them rapidly.

RELATED READ: The Best Live Plants for Turtle Tanks

3. Lighting

Snapping turtles, like other turtles, require a day and night cycle in their lives. They will spend the day moderately active but generally wake up at night after the dark. People who have a snapper will get to know their habits.

Snappers like to hunt at night, so you will need to provide light during the day and make sure it is dark at night. This can be done by turning the lights on and off, but it is easier to buy a timer that will provide light for about 12 hours a day (you may have to adjust this depending on the time of year – daylight is longer in the summer months and shorter in the winter).

For the kind of light that should be supplied, we recommend a full-spectrum fluorescent light. A full spectrum light will provide UV rays necessary in producing Vitamin D3 for turtles and tortoises.

It is said that snapping turtles don’t need as much light as other species, but I consider it only as it is speculation and they should be given the opportunity to catch some natural resembling lights.

RELATED READ: The Best UVB Lights For Turtles

4. Basking Area Heating

The necessity of a basking light in making a common snapping turtles enclosure is usually ignored.

Most people believe that snappers don’t bask and only leave the water only to lay eggs. As a result of these beliefs, the keepers don’t supply them with a basking light.

A full spectrum basking spotlight is highly recommended. This is especially crucial for juvenile snappers. Baby snapping turtles now and then bask, but some of them can take a siesta on a piece of driftwood beneath the hot rays of the spotlight, becoming a routine occurrence.

The light should be hung 10 to 12 inches above an easily accessible basking area made up of a mix of rocks and a big piece of driftwood.

The lifespan and strength of a spotlight is determined by the manufacturer, but full-spectrum light generally cannot last longer than six months.

RELATED READ: The Best Basking Lights for Turtles

5. Water Heating

In case the tank is utilized to house snappers kept indoors, the water in it should be maintained at around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer, taking advantage of ambient heating, the water in the tank must be artificially heated.

The temperature can also be achieved with ambient heating by putting the tank in a warm room. However, a submersible heater with a thermostat is recommended because it’s easy to adjust the temperature.

If necessary, I would advocate using a separate thermometer in the tank to double-check the temperature (the thermostat may just break down and not function properly).

Be careful if you are taking the turtles outside to your backyard in the summer. If you put their tank in direct sunlight, the water will get very hot and might cook the turtles. Make sure that a large part of the tank is always in the shade when you set it outside.

Another thing to remember is not to try to keep turtles hibernating in indoor tanks. The water in an indoor tank should be kept warm all year round. If the water is too cold, the turtles will not eat and they will not hibernate. They will eventually get weak and die.

The hibernation process should be left up to wild turtles. Turtles that are kept as pets will not get harmed by keeping them active all year round.

RELATED READ: The Best Turtle Tank Heater

6. Water Quality

Clean water is one of the most important things for keeping a turtle healthy. This means the water has to be clean and of good quality.

Having a good water quality means that it should be clean, chemically balanced, and at the proper temperature.

The pH levels should be kept somewhere between 6.5 to 7. This is simple to accomplish with the inexpensive, widely available water dechlorinators that can be found at any pet shop created especially for this purpose.

Turtles, unlike fish, produce a lot of ammonia fast, and the best approach to keep them under control is to have adequate filtration that allows for the development of nitrates, which is a friendly bacteria that reduces the ammonia levels within the water tank.

The turtle owner’s job should also include periodic water changes, as well as removing any uneaten food, excrements produced by the turtle, and partial, periodical water changes.

Adding a couple of fish to your baby turtle tank can help clean up any leftovers from feeding. This is only a temporary solution, though, since the fish will disappear quickly when the turtles get bigger.

You need to clean your turtle tank setup whenever the water becomes cloudy or the filter gets plugged. It might only take a week for it to happen, or it might take up to two months if your tank is big and well-organized.

Handling snapping turtles while cleaning:

  • After removing the turtles, the parts of the filter, any rocks or driftwood, and the tank should be washed with brush and sponge, and thoroughly rinsed.
  • After setting the enclosure up again, the tank should be filled with tap water (rainwater is the best), the pH level checked and treated if necessary, and the filter and heater turned on.
  • The turtles can be put back as soon as the water reaches the appropriate temperature.

Note: Getting the turtles out of their tanks is a delicate procedure, and it’s important to do it slowly. Before removing the turtles, prepare a temporary enclosure with water at about the same temperature as the tank. It’s a good idea, however, to let them dry completely before treating any wounds or indications of algal or fungal growth.

RELATED READ: How to Keep Turtle Tank Clean?

7. Water Filtration

To ensure that the snapper, or any other turtle, is satisfied and healthy, it is critical to have crystal clear water.

All aquatic turtles eat, sleep, and relieve themselves in water. They have no alternative but to consume the things that they live on.

Filthy water encourages the growth of germs and when combined with pH and ammonia levels imbalances, it might cause fungal and shell rot to name a few of the more serious conditions.

Swallowed filthy water can cause stomach issues and parasitic infections. All of the conditions above, if not treated correctly, might result in serious injury or even death to the animal.

Turtles create a lot more filth than fish, and they pollute water far more quickly. Turtles generate a lot of waste, which is why regular PH and Ammonia level checks are required. Because turtles produce so much filth, they require stronger filters than fish tanks do.

Partially changing the water (2-3 times a week) and always scooping out any uneaten food and feces will allow time for the development of “friendly bacteria” necessary for biological filtration.

It may take 10 to 15 days for the levels of ammonia in the tank to drop significantly. The filters will soon be clogged if there is not enough filtration, and cleaning them will halt bacterial growth.

Just like with choosing the turtle tank, the rule when selecting a water filter would be the same, the bigger the better.

RELATED READ: Best Filters for Turtle Tanks

Snapping Turtle Diet

snapping turtle diet

You should give your pet food that is as close as possible to the food they would eat in the wild. However, you cannot always give them exactly what they would eat in the wild, so you will need to use substitutes.

To maintain good health, it is important to make sure their diet is well balanced. Turtles need all kinds of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin D3, Vitamin B1, and Calcium. These nutrients are necessary for the healthy growth of their shells and overall strength.

Captive-kept snappers should have a diet that includes as many live foods as possible such as:

  • fish
  • crayfish
  • shrimp
  • frogs
  • snails
  • crickets
  • baby mice or young small mouse

Any type of frozen fish cut into pieces to the appropriate size is ideal for turtles of any size. Raw lean beef, beef liver, heart, squid, cabbage, spinach, carrot, and fruits are all acceptable additions.

It’s also wise to test new foods since not all snappers enjoy the same things.

You need to be careful not to give your turtle too much food at once. If you give it a big chunk, it might not be able to swallow it and it could choke. Make sure you watch your turtle eat and don’t leave it alone when it is eating.

You should also give your turtles commercially available turtle food, like Tetra Reptomin, as an addition to their regular diet. Feeding them only commercial pallet foods will not make them healthy in the long run and might cause some health problems later on.

It’s also a good idea to supplement the turtle’s diet with a reptile vitamin supplement on a weekly basis. By including a tiny amount of the solution in some fish or mouse before serving, it may be done.

The hatchlings need to be fed every day so they can grow. They need to eat a lot because their shells are growing.

Mature snappers need to be fed every two-three days. Later in life, they only need to be fed once a week. If the turtles show no interest in the food, you will know it is time to stop feeding them.

Uneaten food should be removed from the tank within an hour of feeding.

RELATED READ: Best Turtle Foods

Handling Snapping Turtles

Handling Snapping Turtles
Handling Snapping Turtles

Snapping turtles should be handled with care. They are usually shy, but they can become aggressive if you try to touch them. They can bite you and their bites can hurt a lot.

Their jaws are very powerful and fast. Once they have something in their mouth, they usually don’t let go easily. If you get bitten by a turtle, the best thing to do is put the turtle back in the water.


You can handle them however you want. But remember, even though they are young, they can be dangerous. They might start biting soon!

Small Size

You can pick up a snapping turtle easily by holding its carapace with your thumb and plastron with your index and middle fingers. Keep the tail between them.

Medium Size

You can use all of your fingers to easily manipulate a middle-size snapper. Try to keep its tail between your middle finger and third finger.

Large Size

Because of their weight and power, large snapping turtles should only be handled by experienced people. The way to handle them is similar, except you would grab the turtle with both hands by the tail with the head pointed down.

If the turtle knows you, you can hold it by its shell with both hands on the sides. This is especially true for large or very large snappers that are covered in slippery algae.

Carry the turtle carefully. Don’t hold it too high off the ground, or the turtle’s powerful legs might catch on your hands and it will free itself. If you carry it too high, it might get injured.

In the case of an alligator snapping turtle, they have much shorter necks and different behavior when picked up.

They are different from the common snapping turtles because they don’t snap or make any quick moves. They stay calm and open their mouths wide, turning their heads towards the intruder. They will close their jaws when they reach the person.

The alligator snapper’s beaks are quite hooked and sharp, and their bites can cause significantly more damage than a common snapping turtle’s. They have the ability to amputate a finger or even a limb with tremendous strength.

The alligator snapping turtles’ necks are short, making them safe to handle when they aren’t able to bite far-off targets.

The normal method is to hold the snapper by the upper edge of the carapace just behind its head with one hand, and by the backside of the carapace above the base of the tail with another.

Snapping turtles become tame as they get older. People find them to be quite easy to keep. The only problem is their size and aggressiveness.

For these reasons, they are not a good pet for a child. On the other hand, for an adult person, with proper care, they can be transformed into easy-going and great pets.

Basic Care

Keeping your pet snappers, or any other turtles, happy means ensuring that their basic requirements are met:

  • Every day, a 15-minute period should be set aside to check on the turtle.
  • Remove waste from the tank
  • Examine the turtles for injuries (cuts and bites)
  • When attempting to detect an infected turtle, the animal should be removed as quickly as possible from the tank and placed in a separate enclosure.

General Health Issues

Snapping turtles are resilient, long-lived, and forgiving of mistakes in their care. But that doesn’t mean he can’t become unwell or sick.

Here is a list of some common snapping turtle issues to be able to detect in time for a veterinarian visit.

Health IssueSymptoms
Shell Rot:The layers of the shell’s outer layer deteriorated and frequently left the underlying scutes intact.
Fungus Infection:Has white blotches on the skin.
Hypovitaminosis D:Deformed shell.
Hypovitaminosis B:Paralysation of the legs.
Hypovitaminosis A:Swelling eyes, runny nose, when breathing, the turtle makes a rasping sound; unusual skin peeling.
Salmonellosis:Paralysation of the legs.
Proteus Infection:The turtle has trouble sinking in water or floats with one side much higher than the other.
Lumps & Tumors:Lumps are hard and inflamed under the skin of the neck or limbs.
External Parasites:Ticks are attached to the turtle’s skin.
Internal Parasites:The turtle might pass visible worms.

Before purchasing a pet turtle, find the address of an animal clinic that specializes in reptiles. It might be useful in an emergency.


If you’re thinking of getting a snapping turtle as a pet, it’s important that you know how to care for them properly.

In this article, we’ve outlined the basics of what you need to do to keep your turtle healthy and happy.

Make sure you remove waste from the tank every day and check for injuries or infections.

If your turtle starts showing any signs of illness, take it to a veterinarian right away. With proper care, snappers can make great pets for adults!