Skip to main content

How to Care for Baby Snapping Turtles

  • Author:
  • Updated date:
Get advice on housing and feeding your snapping turtle and how to keep it healthy.

Get advice on housing and feeding your snapping turtle and how to keep it healthy.

A Baby Snapping Turtle Is a Lifelong Commitment

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. The fact that they often live from 20 to 50 years (and can live more than 100 years) if cared for properly can be kind of scary to some people.

They Start Small and Grow Big

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. 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 are some things that you will need:

  • A tank. A 10-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.
  • Sand and rocks (some nice big outside rocks would do. I don't use the tiny ones for fear my turtle might mistake them for 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Time, care, and patience.

How to Build 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 turn the bottle into 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.
  • Optionally, you can also get little fake plants, although I am not sure how the turtle would respond to them, and it might try to eat them.

What Do Snapping Turtles Eat?

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!

What Do I Feed My Pet Turtle?

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 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.

Don’t Overfeed or Underfeed Your Pet!

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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Snapping Turtles

Below is some more important information for aspiring (or first-time) turtle owners.

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 make 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 it's 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 life span in the wild is unknown, but in captivity, some snappers live 100 years. The average life span is 30 or 40 years.

This is an adult. Snapping turtles can grow up to or larger than this.

This is an adult. Snapping turtles can grow up to or larger than this.

From Baby Turtle to Grown-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.

Never Release a Pet Turtle Into the Wild!

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

How to Handle 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Bowser on August 06, 2020:

I have 4 turtles... 2 baby midland painted, and 2 baby snappers. They are VERY different. The midland turtles are more active. I have to feed my midland's separately, otherwise they'll attack each other for food. On the other hand, the 2 snappers hardly even eat! They are very slow, and almost seem brain dead compared to the midlands. I have 2 separate tanks for the 2 different species. I tried leaving them all in one tank, but the midlands were scared to death because the snappers... even tho the snappers were not being aggressive, or at least that I know of.

Um... I have a question on July 30, 2020:

I found 31 eggs in my back yard what should I do

Tamzie on July 17, 2020:

Do we have a turtle and its not moving or doing anything but o dont think its dead whats wrong with it

Cheyenne on May 30, 2020:

This helps a lot I have a baby napping Turttle his name is speedy I have a question can they live in a sand habitat with water ?

Addison the great on May 27, 2020:

So i have a baby snapping turtle and his name is Dart

I have a question. What do i do with him during winter?

arron on May 25, 2020:

no telling and give half the money and feed the rest

Ashlynn.mcgregor. Christina on March 25, 2020:

I have a common snapping turtle I can tell because there are ridges on the snapper. And my dad caught it in the wild as a baby

Madison Grace on March 19, 2020:

Somebody just gave me one! Its cute and the last time we tried to keep baby turtles they didnt get very big and we didnt feed them enogh. This is my second chance for a turtle!

John R on February 21, 2020:

DO NOT feed your reptiles/amphibians bugs from outside that is horrible advice, you don't know what those insects have eaten or gotten into. They could be carrying parasites and/or pesticides that could KILL YOUR ANIMAL.

You should put a snapper in a 20 gallon

a turtle is an amphibian not a reptile

Don't use sand just use large aquarium gravel

They need a hide underwater and on land

They grow 4 inches in the first year then 1 inch a year after that

Handle often and try to hand feed sometimes, it helps form a bond

If you want real information go to a turtle/snapping turtle group on facebook. Those people are nazis about the exact care and maintenance of an animal. This article is garbage and this persons advice should not be considered. Also, I would take anything a pet store worker tells you with a grain of salt. Stay skeptical, do your own research.

MikeC on February 16, 2020:

These are animals of nature and should be left in nature not raised in a fish tank. It is one thing to help them another to keep them trapped in your house. They should be put back where they will survive quite well without your help.

Peter Pate on November 10, 2019:

My rescue turtle “ little Fred “ is still around but I’m worried because he/she doesn’t seem to be growing. I’d hoped for some type of reply here but nothing yet. Maybe I should try a pet store?

Peter Pate on November 01, 2019:

I believe your suggested 84d water temperature might have been too much. Still thanks

Peter Pate on October 26, 2019:

Thanks for your info and I hope little Fred lives long and happy. I’ll try to be a good caretaker

Savannah, 9 years old on October 17, 2019:

Is a all female/male turtles and tortoise bottom for male bumpy and for female flat???

Abby on October 14, 2019:

Just something I noticed: punctuation, spelling, and language! Really!

Abby on October 13, 2019:

My sister and I found a baby snapping turtle in the lake near our house. We have him in a 20 gallon tank with lots of minnows (from the same lake), a crayfish, and a small brim. We named him Buddy. It's really cool to watch him stretch his neck up to reach the surface to breathe.

Laura on October 06, 2019:

I live in new hampshire and it is getting cold. 34 at 7am Someone found and gave me a tiny baby snapping turtle yesterday. Found at a lake. I have her/him in a container with mud, grass, ferns, rocks, a small amount of water and I wrapped the entire container with a thick towel last evening in my barn. She will come inside today but since she is acclimated to cold, does she need a heat lamp still if she is in the indoors? She is only a couple inches long, if that and appears to be blind in an eye.

Chris Cody on September 10, 2019:

I got a question what’s a baby snapping turtles eat

Lily on September 02, 2019:

What do baby snapping turtles eat??

Brianna Camp on June 24, 2019:

I have had a baby snapping turtle and it has a rough black And brown shell. I have had it for about a year in a half. It is so cute and when I got it it wouldn't stop swimming so I named it Dori. The name is from finding Nemo. I love turtles! I have had 2 before Dori. They were box and paint turtles. Dori has been eating dried dead bug turtle food for about a year and just started eating worms. And Dori is the size of 2 quarters and I love her. Handle her a lot but I don't have a heater and I just now got a tank it is very small. Most of the stuff stated in your article I did not do or have. But now I know I need it. Your article was very helpful.

Thank You!

Trent on June 07, 2019:

Wanda keener!

Bring it inside

Wanda Keener on June 03, 2019:

What about winter time habitat

Anna munilla on April 26, 2019:

i have a baby snaping turtle from the wild i dont know what to do!

zoey randell on April 04, 2019:

i like turtles

Neil on January 18, 2019:

I have a10 gal. Aquarium with 3 bady snappers they have been fighting should thay be seperated.

Zada on January 06, 2019:

My boyfriend and I found a baby snappung turtle last summer. (He?) eats small fish, frogs, worms, romaine lettuce, and other greens. Occasionally he'll eat strawberries, raspberries, bananas, and peaches. I saw a comment that asked if they should have a companion, I'd say that if you have a large pond or something like that, that you're going to keep it in when it gets big it should be okay. However if it's in an aquarium I think it'd perfer to be the only one.. I hope this helps someone out, or answers some questions!

Tucker on October 17, 2018:

I found an alligator snapper while I was lookin fo worms and crawfish. I have worms but no vegetables what veggies should I get him

Sky on October 05, 2018:

Do they need a companion?

Or should they stay alone

gilly on October 02, 2018:

hey sisters

Marcus Luther II on September 17, 2018:

I founded a snapping turtle

Kota Stichter on September 15, 2018:

What types of Vegetables and fruit can a snapping turtle eat

Tabitha on September 14, 2018:

I found a baby common snapper at work in the parking lot i think it wandered from the rain and the mini pool it was in dried up, i'm gonna try to relocate it on a day off this is super helpful. I just couldn't leave him in a gas station parking lot to get run over.

Logan ware on September 13, 2018:

I found a baby snapping turtle and I’m gonna try to keep him as a pet,will he eat lettuce?

Khasihowell on September 13, 2018:

I found a baby snapping turtle yesterday it's about the size of a 50 cent piece. How old do you think it is?is it still young enough to start holding it so it can get use to me

Jamis on September 09, 2018:

my turtle won't eat please help

Bobby spain on August 19, 2018:

I have a hatchling Florida snapping Turtle and I was just wondering how often does it need to be fed.

Boxer on June 21, 2018:

Hi my turtle won't eat any thing please help me

Korey on June 19, 2018:

Wat is u feeding it

Jeff on June 17, 2018:

My turtle is not eating can you help me?

Amie S. on June 10, 2018:

Just wanted to tell you thanks for your very helping snapping turtle care page!! I found one while digging in a puddle for tadpoles to raise, he has become one of the coolest and active pets I've ever had. No biting no hissing just has the greatest little attitude!! Thank you very very much!!

Cara on June 06, 2018:

My friend found a baby snapping turtle and she was going to give it to me since she thinks i'm an "animal expert", but I've never had experience with turtles. I was wondering, how often do you feed it?

Linda on June 05, 2018:

Found a baby snapper at my back door how would he if got there. I can't get him to eat can you help me

Daisy on May 20, 2018:

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

Tim on May 16, 2018:

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

Carla on May 07, 2018:

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?

yokal on April 30, 2018:

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.

ryca on March 18, 2018:

i also found a baby turtle

and i dont know what should be

feed in the baby turtle.

Aaron on March 17, 2018:

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?

Christy on December 16, 2017:

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? on November 24, 2017:

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

Hailey on November 23, 2017:

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

Sam on November 02, 2017:

How often do you feed it

Lane on November 02, 2017:

They also like rabbit food

Gillian on October 10, 2017:

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

Seth on October 02, 2017:

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!!

0809 on September 16, 2017:

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.

Zathura on August 21, 2017:

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.

Mr. Snappy Pappy on August 16, 2017:

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

Please refrain unless you have something intelligent to say.

Nanouk on August 10, 2017:

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?

Cat on June 09, 2017:

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.

Rachel on June 08, 2017:

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

Miriam on June 05, 2017:

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

Josh on June 04, 2017:

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

KittenCat2000x on May 20, 2017:

Kylik I have two baby snapping turtles

KittenCat2000x on May 20, 2017:

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

Mendy on May 18, 2017:

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

PrideofPurvis on May 18, 2017:

can alligator snapping turtles eat blueberries?

Kitten on May 01, 2017:

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

Yay donuts on April 26, 2017:

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

tylik on April 05, 2017:

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

turtle lost on March 14, 2017:

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

Jim trout on January 17, 2017:

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

Joanna on January 16, 2017:

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✌

Brooke on November 20, 2016:

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

Oscar124 on November 13, 2016:

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

Gracie on September 18, 2016:

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

lee on July 02, 2016:

And is hide place indispensable to baby snapping turtle?

lee on July 02, 2016:

Is lettuces and green vegetable good food?

renee wang on June 26, 2016:

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 on June 23, 2016:

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 on June 09, 2016:

Do turtles live better by themselves or with more turtle?

Lisa on April 24, 2016:

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 on April 09, 2016:

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 on March 01, 2016:

thak you and you are the best for theme.

Tooky on February 24, 2016:

I used to have one

note on October 07, 2015:

i love this

Joshua Omara on September 30, 2015:

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 on September 23, 2015:

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 on May 29, 2015:

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 on May 09, 2015:

I found a baby snapping turtle

Kim Edgecomb on May 02, 2015:

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 on April 13, 2015:

they are so cute

dstrong on April 02, 2015:

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 on March 15, 2015:

Turtles are yummy in my bum

nabichu on November 22, 2014:

thank you for giving these

Austin marr on November 05, 2014:

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

Leah Gray on October 25, 2014:

This site rely helped me take care of my turtle

budamane on October 16, 2014:

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

bob on September 23, 2014:

hello I caught a turtle

ddmc on September 18, 2014:

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