How to Care for Baby Snapping Turtles

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)!

Comments 42 comments

Gracie 4 weeks ago

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

lee 3 months ago

And is hide place indispensable to baby snapping turtle?

lee 3 months ago

Is lettuces and green vegetable good food?

renee wang 3 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?

Brian 4 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.

Amy 4 months ago

Do turtles live better by themselves or with more turtle?

Lisa 6 months 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.

True Reptile Lover 6 months 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.

charissa 7 months ago

thak you and you are the best for theme.

Tooky 8 months ago

I used to have one

note 12 months ago

i love this

Joshua Omara 12 months 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.

Linessa 13 months 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

glenco 17 months 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

Jake 17 months ago

I found a baby snapping turtle

Kim Edgecomb 17 months 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.

megan 18 months ago

they are so cute

dstrong 18 months 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

ballSackLicker 19 months ago

Turtles are yummy in my bum

nabichu 23 months ago

thank you for giving these

Austin marr 23 months ago

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

Leah Gray 24 months ago

This site rely helped me take care of my turtle

budamane 2 years ago

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

bob 2 years ago

hello I caught a turtle

ddmc 2 years ago

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

sally101 2 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?

kingnothing71us 2 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.

tamika 2 years ago

Wat do they mostly eat

Levi 2 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

Angela 2 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.

nyasia 2 years ago

Thank you and they really eat biology

kabriana 2 years ago

Can they eat fish food?

kabriana 2 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.

victoria 2 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 2 years ago from Texas Author

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.

jgreen 2 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..?

jgreen 2 years ago

what do baby snappin turtles eat..?

Ashlie Gordon profile image

Ashlie Gordon 3 years ago

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

ashlie gordon 3 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.....

turtle hunter 4 years ago

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

lindsey 5 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 5 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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