How to Care for Baby Snapping Turtles

Updated on October 8, 2015

Starting Out

Caring for a baby snapping turtle is not really hard, there's just a lot of time involved, and you need to make sure you create a good habitat and establish good practices to make sure your turtle lives a long time.

When a snapping turtle is a baby, it is very cute and hard to resist. However, they tend to get really large (up to 18 inches long and 86 pounds heavy!) and can be destructive or unhappy if placed in the wrong environment. The fact that they often live from 20 to 50 years (and can live more than 100 years) if cared for right can be kind of scary to some people. Having a snapping turtle is quite a commitment, so think seriously before deciding if you want to keep one of these reptiles.

Things You Will Need

If you decide you want to keep a baby snapping turtle, here is some things that you will need:

  1. A tank. A ten gallon fish tank would be perfect for now; however, when your turtle grows to be 8 inches long, you'll need to consider moving it outside or upgrading to a 55 gallon container. The baby turtles need an island to rest on but adults don't.
  2. Sand and rocks (some nice big outside rocks would do. I don't use the tiny ones for fear my turtle might mistake them as food and choke on them). Line the tank with aquarium sand or smooth river rocks. When the turtle is young, it will need an island or a shallow flat stone for when it feels like basking in a warm spot.

  3. A heat lamp while they're young (unless you live in a warm sunny place and plan to keep your pet outside). Position the lamp over the shallowest area of the tank. Turtles don't make their own body heat and sometimes enjoy sunning themselves to regulate their temperature. They like it best around 82.5°F (28.1°C).
  4. Water (non chlorinated just like fish tank water). The water in the tank should be shallow—about as deep as the length of your baby turtle's shell. Snappers are poor swimmers and can drown if the water's too deep.
  5. Filtration. If you don't have a filter, you'll have to change the water quite often. The bigger your turtle gets, the more gunk they make, so seriously consider installing a water filtration system.
  6. Time, care, and patience.

Building a Good Turtle Habitat

Whether you know it or not, your turtle likes to hide from you. It makes them feel safe and comfortable. There are several ways to build nice places for your turtle to hide whenever it does not feel safe. One way is to take a 20 ounce plastic bottle, clean it out really well, cut both ends off, and put it in the water. What I do is use the rocks and sand in the tank to build a cave. When you do that, the cave will feel more natural to the turtle. If you have the money and don't feel like doing it yourself, you can go out and buy a little cave from the store. Another thing that is optional is the little fake plants that you can get, although I am not sure how the turtle would respond to them and it might try to eat them.

Turtle Food

Food is one of the most important things for a turtle, but you must be careful not to overfeed or underfeed it. If it looks like its skin is unfolding out of the shell, then it is overfed. If it goes in its shell, and you can barely see it, then it is underfed.

Snapping turtles are omnivores and will eat a whole bunch of stuff. In the wild, they'll eat water plants, fish, frogs, pollywogs, newts, bugs, snails, worms, and snakes. They'll even eat a small mammal or a baby duck!

You'll probably just go to your local pet store to buy turtle food, minnows, worms, or crickets. The young ones are crazy about mealworms, guppies and ghost shrimp. Turtles will also eat a variety of home food including bread and bologna. Chicken, beef, turkey, and fish are all good, too. My turtle just loves bologna! If you have the time and patience you can also go out and catch bugs for this little guy to eat and just put them in the water.

Even if you do buy the turtle food at the store, it's a good idea to give your turtle fresh food, too. Don't forget the vegetables! At least half of the turtle's food should be fresh and "green," as in lettuces and other greens.

Frequently Asked Questions about Snapping Turtles

How do you know if your turtle is a snapping turtle?

The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) has a brown or black shell (aka a carapace) that is rough and ridged when it's young but gets smooth with age and a lighter-colored bottom (aka plastron). The mottled colors of the shell makes for great camouflage at the bottom of a pond. A snapping turtle can't hide as well as other turtles can, but it can move around more easily: On land it raises its body up so that only its tail touches the ground. It has a largish head that's shaped like a triangle, a pointy nose, a large mouth, a curved beak that's shaped like a parrot's, and a very long saw-toothed tail. It has no teeth, but look out for that beak!

How big do they get?

On average, these turtles grow to have a shell that's about 10-12 inches long and weigh from 10 to 35 lbs., but some get larger. Some very fat captive snapping turtles get to be over 80 lbs.!

Why is it called a "snapping" turtle?

A snapping turtle won't attack a human unless threatened or provoked, especially if its on land, but it can defend itself, and snapping is its best defense. It has very strong beak-like jaws and can move its head very far and fast. A snapping turtle can cause serious damage to a careless handler. The turtle might warn you with a hiss before it snaps.

How long will it live?

The lifespan in the wild is unknown, but in captivity, some snappers live 100 years, but the average lifespan is 30 or 40 years.

Adult Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles can grow up to or larger than this
Snapping turtles can grow up to or larger than this | Source

Growing up

As your turtle grows up, he will get bigger! You should take this into consideration. There will be a time when you will either have to get the turtle a very big tank or hopefully you will have a pond near your house that it can live in.

However you should never ever release that turtle into the wild! It will not have the ability or the skill to survive. Plus, it can introduce pathogens, viruses, and bacteria into the wild (things your turtle has built resistance to but the wild turtles have not!), so don't do it!

The age of the dinosaurs was approximately 150 million years ago: 100 million years more recent than the first turtle [...] and humans evolved a mere short 3.5 million years ago.

— Susanne Kynast

Handling a Snapping Turtle

Some say that snappers are all snappy and will all grow up to be aggressive, but if handled often from a young age, they can become just as tame as other turtles. If you start when the turtle is still young, handling it often and trying to never hurt it, it will know you're its friend. Still, snapping turtles may snap! And they can reach their heads back a lot further than you can imagine. So no matter what great friends you and your turtle are, you need to be careful.

Never, never try to pick a snapping turtle up by its tail. This can seriously hurt the tail and damage its spine!

If you must lift your turtle, it's better to lift it by the shell, as close to the hind legs as possible.

Interesting fact: When snapping turtles are stressed, they spray a musky odor (sort of like a skunk)!


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    • profile image

      Daisy 2 days ago

      I have a baby snapping turtle ,it is very cute but hard to take care of ,pet is actually very helpful thanks.

    • profile image

      Tim 6 days ago

      Snapping turtles need meat! I like chicken breast boil it! Thay also love bologna and lobster delights

    • profile image

      Carla 2 weeks ago

      I have a baby snapping turtle in my pool. and he runs from me. Sometimes he disappears and i cant find him. He is very small but i don't know what to do with him. Any suggestions?

    • profile image

      yokal 3 weeks ago

      hello i found a little snapping turtle in my yard so my doesn't eat and i give it to him. Anyways do y'all respond or no cause i need an answer.

    • profile image

      ryca 2 months ago

      i also found a baby turtle

      and i dont know what should be

      feed in the baby turtle.

    • profile image

      Aaron 2 months ago

      I found a baby snapping turtle today and it was the end of the day before we figured out what it needs. Can we feed it grass till we can get turtle food?

    • profile image

      Christy 5 months ago

      We found a baby snapper in our yard. We have it inside and it keeps itself under the water most of the time. It doesnt seem to eat much at all. I have flakes, meal worms and pellets and they are still floating later in the day. Is this normal?

    • profile image 5 months ago

      Thanks for the info, I have had my cst for 2.5 yrs now, and he hasn’t eaten in the last 4 days, I have been letting him spend night time hours out of the water, just the last few nights, since he has stopped eating, thinking maybe he is trying to hybernate, Wondering how to go about letting him do that but don’t know how to go sbout it, any info would be great, Thankyou

    • profile image

      Hailey 5 months ago

      this was really helpful because i just got a wild snapping turtle (saved it from winter that is comming soon)

      i didnt know what to feed him or do with him so ye thxs

    • profile image

      Sam 6 months ago

      How often do you feed it

    • profile image

      Lane 6 months ago

      They also like rabbit food

    • profile image

      Gillian 7 months ago

      Should the little turtle get excersize? Please forgive this question, my man keeps saying she needs to stretch her legs

    • profile image

      Seth 7 months ago

      Mr. Snappy pappy.

      What cat said was helpful. Here in mass you must have a permit to keep a snapper. Something I only know because my son and found a baby on our back pourch... We made a nice habitat for the little guy. Then I started looking on line for what we would need to help him grow healthy and came across the Mass state laws. So we are holding on to him till I have a nature museum or some place that will care for him....

      It is good that cat said that so maybe others will know.....


      Back off!!

    • profile image

      0809 8 months ago

      No that's not the proper way to hold a snapping turtle. Never use the snapping turtle tail to hold or use for leverage, it is harmful to their spine and could possibly paralyzed the turtle. Just hold them behind their back feet.

    • profile image

      Zathura 9 months ago

      Whoever this author is, they shouldn't be advocating the feeding of grocery store meat....especially bologna. Chicken and turkey are fine in small, infrequent amounts (cooked), but beef isn't, unless it's liver or heart, and processed meats like bologna are DEFINITELY not okay! (They're too fatty, and snappers aren't meant to process mammal fat like we do.)

      If you found this article while looking up how to care for your new snapping turtle, look in a few different places as well.

    • profile image

      Mr. Snappy Pappy 9 months ago

      Cat and nanouk you both have no idea what you are talking about.

      Please refrain unless you have something intelligent to say.

    • profile image

      Nanouk 9 months ago

      Have you ever disected a turtle? Picking them up by the tail isn't that damn bad and its the best way to handle a wild one..

      Also why release when you can eat?

    • profile image

      Cat 11 months ago

      You should not remove turtles from the wild. This is illegal in many states and provinces and has a serious negative impact on the wild populations, which are already in serious decline due to road mortality and loss of habitat. While you might feel like you are helping them, in reality you are doing serious damage.

    • profile image

      Rachel 11 months ago

      My babygirl got a snapping turtle what kind of water should wr use thank you

    • profile image

      Miriam 11 months ago

      How can you tell if it's dead because I think mine is dead

    • profile image

      Josh 11 months ago

      I can't believe this comment section. Over half of these people don't know what punctuation is.

    • profile image

      KittenCat2000x 12 months ago

      Kylik I have two baby snapping turtles

    • profile image

      KittenCat2000x 12 months ago

      I have a male and female baby snapping turtles are they ok to live with each other

    • profile image

      Mendy 12 months ago

      Can 2 baby snappers (male and female) live together. They are both very small.

    • profile image

      PrideofPurvis 12 months ago

      can alligator snapping turtles eat blueberries?

    • profile image

      Kitten 12 months ago

      Hi I love snapping turtles and mine bite me and will they eat strawberries

    • profile image

      Yay donuts 13 months ago

      It's very nice of you to help everyone with caring for your turtle alycat0092

    • profile image

      tylik 13 months ago

      Im 13 years old and i dont want to pay for a baby snapping turtle but i have a creek in my back yard how do i find one. i already have every thing to take care of it but i cant find one if i dont find one this month ill haft to pay for and dont want to do that please help me

    • profile image

      turtle lost 14 months ago

      Jim as the turtle matures it's under shell will become more defined if male it's under shell will have a slight umm dent which makes it easier for it to mate you want to in the future if you get some more if female more of a flat/poking out under shell if you do decide to breed though make sure you have a place you can let her roam but not run off so she can lay them don't go check leave her for awhile sometimes they fake lay eggs if they feel threatened and if they don't have some where to lay them she will die

    • profile image

      Jim trout 16 months ago

      I found a hatchling snapper last September. I'm a heavy equipment operator and was gonna backfill a trench that was excavated the day before. I saw something moving near the drainage pipe and recognized a very small snapping turtle. I brought him/ her home and the little turtle has been doing OK. His/ her name is Scub...short for scuba. How do you differentiate the sex? What's the best diet and optimum environmental temperature during their hibernate months if in captivity?

      Please help Scub.


      James D. Trout

    • profile image

      Joanna 16 months ago

      Found two baby snapper, there are hibernating right now, so I brought them home and put them in a safe place. Can't wait to meet them when spring arrives. We have had our pond ready for seven months now. However they are both way too small for the pond. In the mean time, we shall stock up of the thing they needs to survive. So I'll keep some updates for y'all. Peace✌

    • profile image

      Brooke 18 months ago

      This article make it sound easier than it is to raise a snapper.. always consider 10 gallon per inch of shell that is the minimum they get very larg and I would recomend getting a big tank to start (mine is 150 gallons) when my turtle reaches about 10-15 inches I plan on making an outdoor pond for him he is currently 5 inches in shell length they eat a lot! Like it is very hard to satisfy them and mine is on a diet of pinkey rats and a variety of different pellets they CAN NOT live in a small tank when he was a hatchling he was in a 15 gallon tank for about 2 months don't wast your money on small tanks because you will upgrade often go straight to the larger size tank it will save you a lot of money

    • profile image

      Oscar124 18 months ago

      Can you make a small, man made pond for these animals? If so, would recommend a mud bottom?

    • profile image

      Gracie 20 months ago

      can you set them free if they start to get to big for you?

    • profile image

      lee 22 months ago

      And is hide place indispensable to baby snapping turtle?

    • profile image

      lee 22 months ago

      Is lettuces and green vegetable good food?

    • profile image

      renee wang 23 months ago

      My snapping turtle's name is Tina, and she is about 6 months old. I feed her a bit of fish and pork every day. She won't eat vegetables, so can you help me how to get her to eat veggies?

    • profile image

      Brian 23 months ago

      I have a 32 year old, 75 pound snapping turtle and he is one of the best pets i have ever had, he is a huge gentle giant, I also have 3 dogs and he acts just like them he walks around the house with them he plays with them outside, he looks at himself in the mirror, he watches TV. If you decide to get a snapping turtle get it when it's just hatched, because if you want it to be gentle and nice and so it doesn't snap at you, handle it when it's very little and never hurt it, if you do that it should be nice for the rest of its life.

    • profile image

      Amy 23 months ago

      Do turtles live better by themselves or with more turtle?

    • profile image

      Lisa 2 years ago

      Several years in a row I have found baby alligator snapping turtles outside my apartment building and I have caught and released them in a safer environment. But anyone that is wanting to keep turtles as pets needs to understand that they have to have the right environment and it can be expensive to a novice. The proper lighting, water filtration, food, supplements, and housing because if they are kept properly they grow fast and a 10 gallon tank may be fine now but they will outgrow that in just a year or two.

    • profile image

      True Reptile Lover 2 years ago

      Your photos mix common snappers and alligator snappers together. Also, when you advise that an adult should be "moved outside," you give no recommendation about where to relocate. I think you should advise that snapping turtles are wild animals and should not be in an aquarium or cage in a backyard. Leave the turtles alone.

    • profile image

      charissa 2 years ago

      thak you and you are the best for theme.

    • profile image

      Tooky 2 years ago

      I used to have one

    • profile image

      note 2 years ago

      i love this

    • profile image

      Joshua Omara 2 years ago

      Got a baby snapper myself and he or she idk IT loves the fresh watter/air Snips is the name Dosnt seem to eat much but I give it lettis, bread, lil bit of ground beef, bugs and even organic veggies. Snips likes the fresh air in the morning after a night in the tank. I just let the fella crawl around 4 a lil bit Its really cute.

    • profile image

      Linessa 2 years ago

      You are all right, sorry Aly, but that is a map turtle. But your information on snapping turtles is correct. My baby snapping turtle's name is Squirt. Here he is

    • profile image

      glenco 2 years ago

      Found a badass today he's a little guy but he was pounding down a worm got a cement plastic mixing tub set up a spot to swim,eat,sun an bugs,looks like Tigg is a much. SOA

    • profile image

      Jake 3 years ago

      I found a baby snapping turtle

    • profile image

      Kim Edgecomb 3 years ago

      I have a baby snapper and it's doing really great. I dig fish worms for it, and cut them into little bite size pieces. When I clean it's tank, I use water from Walmart. Sometimes I get it out and hold it.

    • profile image

      megan 3 years ago

      they are so cute

    • profile image

      dstrong 3 years ago

      I just found a baby aligator snapper earlier today when i was grooming my horses and im going to give it to my biology professor as a class pet

    • profile image

      ballSackLicker 3 years ago

      Turtles are yummy in my bum

    • profile image

      nabichu 3 years ago

      thank you for giving these

    • profile image

      Austin marr 3 years ago

      I have a lil problem my turtle neck is bent and it wont eat

    • profile image

      Leah Gray 3 years ago

      This site rely helped me take care of my turtle

    • profile image

      budamane 3 years ago

      I have a baby alligator snapping turtle and my son loves it. I feed it goldfish.

    • profile image

      bob 3 years ago

      hello I caught a turtle

    • profile image

      ddmc 3 years ago

      sally101, You do not have a snapping turtle. It sounds like a painted turtle.

    • profile image

      sally101 3 years ago

      yesterday I found a baby turtle in one of my chairs. My dog brought it home from the lake. how do you know if it a girl or boy. Also if it has orange/red stripes on it is it a snapping turtle?

    • profile image

      kingnothing71us 3 years ago

      I just found a little baby snapping turtle in my yard. My wife and I thought it was dead because he wasn't moving. I watched him and saw his eye open so I brought him inside and put him in a little bowl with water. He is swimming around now. I will be taking him to my neighbors pond tomorrow, where he most likely came from, to release him. If anyone reads this soon, could you give me your opinion on if there are probably more babies around? I don't want to step on them or run over them in my vehicles.

    • profile image

      tamika 3 years ago

      Wat do they mostly eat

    • profile image

      Levi 3 years ago

      I had caught 2 baby snapping turtles where I normally fish and I love their company and they are fast. They are named stefano and bart

    • profile image

      Angela 3 years ago

      A snapping turtle laid about 50 eggs outside near my wood shed. My daughter and I watched and waited. When they started to hatch we put them in a large bin with dirt, grass, water, and earthworms. After two days all of them were hatched and 38 of them lived. I have a slow flowing river in my back yard. We took them down to the river and released them next to it. Hoping that most would live. BTW Shelly DEF does not look like a snapper. I have been around them all of my life. My father used to catch them and release them into less human populated areas. Snapping turtle shells are not as flat as Shelly's seems to be.

    • profile image

      nyasia 3 years ago

      Thank you and they really eat biology

    • profile image

      kabriana 3 years ago

      Can they eat fish food?

    • profile image

      kabriana 3 years ago

      My baby snapper is like an inch I Want to know how to take care of it like what to feed it actually its like a cent.

    • profile image

      victoria 4 years ago

      In Aug 2012 my son found a baby snapping turtle about 1 inch long, we feed him good he seems happy but the problem is he has never grown not at all. Im wondering if this is normal?

    • alycat0092 profile image

      alycat0092 4 years ago from Texas

      It's best to give them a varied diet of animal and plant, insects, worms, aquatic plants, store bought turtle pellets, veggies and fruit. The more variety the better.

    • profile image

      jgreen 4 years ago

      my son found a baby snapping turtle n he wants to keep it.. I just want to know what tgey eat does anybody know..?

    • profile image

      jgreen 4 years ago

      what do baby snappin turtles eat..?

    • Ashlie Gordon profile image

      Ashlie Gordon 4 years ago

      If you could please write me back asap i would apprechiate me please

    • profile image

      ashlie gordon 4 years ago

      I have a question... If u have a baby snapper can u leave it outside in40 degree weather or will it die.....and how do u know the difference between dead and hibernating.....please someone answer me on this bec I need to know.....he was fine yesterday and today he moved little but won't open his eyes...I now have him inside in his own tank and with a heat lamp but I'm scared he's dead.....

    • profile image

      turtle hunter 6 years ago

      Really looks like a map turtle to me. I have baby snappers and that's not offense.

    • profile image

      lindsey 6 years ago

      i caught one named him spike he is really sweetbut will he bight me he is ass tiny as yours

    • mariekbloch profile image

      mariekbloch 6 years ago

      Hi alycat! Welcome to Hubpages.

      I liked most of your hub, but just a few things. No UV-B light? From my understanding, all turtles need amounts of sunlight for health. Bologna is okay once in a great while, like a treat, but I would not make a consistent diet out of that. Live bugs are great, and vegetables! Bread... again, a treat.

      I also disagree with your last claim that the snapping turtle does not have the survival skills to live on its own after captivity. They are among the oldest animals on this planet, and reptiles are not like mammals who depend on their mothers.

      Sorry your first comment is from a nitpicker. I just really care about these animals.

      Shelly is a cutie, but are you sure that's a snapping turtle? It looks more like a map turtle to me. What kind is he/she?


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