Common Snapping Turtle Care Sheet (Complete Guide)

A snapping turtle, or more specifically, the Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina), is a marvel of the reptilian world. Native to the freshwater environments of the Americas, this species displays an unparalleled mix of tenacity, endurance, and an intriguing character that sets it apart from other turtle species.

Common snapping turtle is a mature specimen, with its robust shell and pronounced beak-like jaw, radiates a unique aura that captures immediate attention. The characteristic “snap”, from which their name derives, is more than a defensive tactic; it’s a testament to their survival instincts honed over millennia.

Snapping turtles inhabit a range of habitats, from slow-moving rivers and streams to marshy ponds and lakes. They’re hardy survivors and show remarkable adaptability, equally at home in the murky depths or basking on sunlit logs. In my own experiences with these creatures, I’ve seen first-hand their resilience and adaptability.

Quick Summary
Scientific NameChelydra serpentina, C. rossignonii, C. acutirostris
Size8 to 18 inch shell length, 10 to 35 pounds
Lifespan30-40 years
DietVariety of worms, insects, small animals, and vegetables
Tank Size120 gallon
Humidity & Temperature75°F-80°F water temperature
80°F-86°F ambient air temperature
90°F basking spot

Snapping Turtle Appearance

When it comes to the distinctive traits of the common snapping turtle, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. First and foremost, these captivating creatures are recognized for their considerable size. A mature common snapping turtle can measure between 8 to 18 inches in carapace (shell) length. Females generally remain on the smaller side, while males tend to grow larger, asserting their dominance within their habitat.

Unlike most turtles, their carapace is jagged and serrated, almost resembling the craggy surface of a rock. This rugged shell serves as a powerful protective layer against predators and plays a crucial role in their survival in the wild.

Common snapping turtles exhibit a robust spectrum of hues from solid, dark black to various shades of brown and even olive green. Their underbelly, or plastron, is typically lighter, boasting a yellowish hue. What’s fascinating is that their coloration often mimics their surroundings, an effective camouflage strategy for these stealthy predators.

Beyond their size and shell, snapping turtles possess an ancient look, a testament to their long evolutionary history. Their eyes, set deeply into their head, give off an intense, focused gaze, while their prehistoric-looking tail, almost as long as the shell itself, adds to their overall imposing appearance.

Natural History of the Common Snapping Turtle


The story of the common snapping turtle is one deeply entrenched in the annals of our planet’s natural history. Originating millions of years ago, these awe-inspiring creatures have stood the test of time and remain one of the most fascinating species within the turtle family. They have survived environmental changes and other challenges that have led to the extinction of other species, which is a testament to their robustness and adaptability.

Geographically, the common snapping turtle has a broad distribution across North America, from southern Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico, and extending from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. Their widespread presence is a clear indicator of their versatility and resilience, thriving in different habitats including rivers, swamps, ponds, and lakes.

In their native ecosystems, common snapping turtles play an essential role. Acting as both predator and scavenger, they contribute to the health and balance of their environments. They help control populations of various organisms and aid in nutrient recycling by scavenging carrion and consuming plant matter.

Do Common Snapping Turtles Make Good Pets?

Having cared for numerous common snapping turtles over the years, I can confidently tell you that they are indeed remarkable creatures. However, whether or not they make good pets is a matter of perspective and largely depends on the keeper’s experience and willingness to meet the species’ specific care requirements.

Pros of Owning a Snapping Turtle

The common snapping turtle has a character unlike any other. Their distinctive appearance and intriguing behavior make them a captivating subject for those interested in unique pets.

Observing a snapping turtle in a well-set-up aquarium can be a fulfilling experience that immerses you in their aquatic world.

Additionally, snapping turtles are hardy creatures that, if cared for correctly, can live for many years, providing a long-term companionship.

Cons of Owning a Snapping Turtle

On the flip side, common snapping turtles demand a high level of care. Their tank requirements, dietary needs, and overall size pose significant challenges.

They grow much larger than most other pet turtle species and will require a larger tank as they mature. This also means that they aren’t suitable for handling – they are mostly a “look but don’t touch” pet.

Moreover, these turtles are notorious for their assertive demeanor. While it adds to their distinct character, it can present a challenge for novice keepers unaccustomed to dealing with more defensive reptiles.

Who is the Right Person to Own a Snapping Turtle?

Now, let’s be clear. Snapping turtles are not for everyone. They are best suited for more experienced reptile enthusiasts who understand the specific care these animals need. Individuals who can appreciate the creature’s natural behavior, invest in an appropriately sized habitat, and devote time to regular maintenance would make ideal owners.

A common misconception is that snapping turtles are overly aggressive creatures. In reality, while they do have a strong defensive reaction when threatened, they are not inherently “mean”. This misunderstanding can lead to snapping turtles being needlessly feared and mishandled.

It is also frequently misunderstood that snapping turtles can be kept in small tanks indefinitely, similar to some fish species. I cannot stress enough that this is untrue. Snapping turtles grow significantly and require an upgrade in their habitat size to remain healthy and active.

Common Snapping Turtle Habitat Requirements


Creating the right environment for your Common Snapping Turtle is not a task to be taken lightly. As a owner, you will need to closely mimic their natural habitat. Here are the key factors you should focus on:

1. Right Tank

The first step is to choose an appropriate tank. Snapping turtles are not small creatures, and they require ample space to move around. For a juvenile, a 40-gallon tank will suffice, but for an adult, you’ll need a minimum of 120 gallons.

Personally, I use a 150-gallon tank for my fully grown Snapper. The extra space allows him room for swimming and exploring.

2. Substrate:

The substrate forms the bottom layer of the tank. In my experience, a mix of large rocks and sand works best. The rocks offer a firm grounding, while the sand mimics the muddy bottom of their natural pond habitat.

3. Temperature

Temperature regulation is vital for the health of your snapping turtle. The water temperature should be maintained at around 70-75°F, and you’ll need a basking spot of about 85-90°F. I use a submersible water heater and a basking lamp to achieve this.

4. Water

The water depth should be at least as deep as the turtle’s length. Keep in mind that Snapping turtles are not the best swimmers, so a depth that allows them to touch the tank’s bottom is ideal. I keep the water in my tank at a depth of about 12 inches. Make sure the water is kept clean with a high-quality filtration system.

5. Lighting

Proper lighting plays a crucial role in your turtle’s health. I recommend using a UVA/UVB light to simulate natural sunlight and promote vitamin D3 synthesis, which aids in calcium absorption. The light should be on for around 12 hours each day.

6. Water Filter

You will absolutely need a high quality filter for your turtles if you want to keep the tank from being smelly. Use canister filters like Magnum 350 or Fluval 404’s.  Bigger is better.  Just one canister filter will cost between 75 and 200 dollars.

7. Accessories

Don’t overlook the importance of accessories in the tank. A sturdy basking platform, live aquatic plants, and hiding spots made of driftwood or large rocks contribute to a thriving environment. I’ve noticed that these additions have greatly increased my turtle’s activity and overall satisfaction.

Common Snapping Turtle Diet

Snapping turtles are omnivorous by nature, meaning they consume both plant and animal matter. Here, we’ll take a comprehensive look at their dietary needs, provide practical feeding advice, and delve into the importance of nutrition at different stages of their life.

What do Common Snapping Turtles Eat?

Common snapping turtle’s diet in captivity should reflect what they eat in the wild as closely as possible.

In the wild, their diet typically consists of:

  • Aquatic insects
  • Aquatic plants
  • Crayfish
  • Fish
  • Small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles (including other turtles!)

Here are the primary foods your turtle should consume:

  1. Protein: This includes live or frozen-thawed feeder fish, earthworms, mealworms, and even occasional small mice. These high-protein foods are vital for growth and shell health.
  2. Vegetation: Though younger snapping turtles tend to be more carnivorous, adults will readily eat aquatic plants, algae, and some fruits and vegetables. Greens like spinach and kale can be included in their diet.
  3. Commercial turtle pellets: These are a good source of balanced nutrition, but should be used as a supplement to a diet primarily made up of whole, natural foods.

Nutritional Needs at Different Life Stages

The dietary needs of a snapping turtle change as they grow. Younger turtles need a protein-heavy diet to support their rapid growth. As they mature, they should gradually shift to a diet that includes more vegetation. Adult snapping turtles in the wild often eat a diet that is up to 50% plant matter.

My own turtles have shown a preference for certain foods at different stages in their life. For instance, the younger ones always seem more eager to snap up live feeders, while my older turtles tend to be more methodical eaters, often going for plant matter first.

AgeFeeding Frequency
Under 6 monthsTwice daily
Under 2 yearsEvery day
Over 2 yearsThree times a week

Practical Tips and Advice on Feeding

Feeding a common snapping turtle isn’t as simple as throwing food into their tank. Here are some best practices you should follow:

  1. Food size: Offer food items that your turtle can easily consume in one or two bites. Large pieces can be a choking hazard.
  2. Feeding schedule: Young snapping turtles should be fed daily, while adults do well with feeding every other day.
  3. Quantity: Avoid overfeeding your turtle. As a rule, the amount of food offered should be roughly the size of the turtle’s head and neck.
  4. Dietary variety: Keep the diet varied to ensure they receive a range of nutrients. A monotonous diet can lead to health problems.

Many common health issues in snapping turtles, like metabolic bone disease and vitamin deficiencies, can be traced back to an improper diet. These issues can be prevented with a well-rounded diet and occasional supplementation with vitamins and calcium.

Common Snapping Turtle Typical Behavior

Understanding the behavior of your common snapping turtle is critical for both your safety and theirs. These animals display a fascinating range of behaviors.

Snapping turtles, contrary to their aggressive reputation, tend to be placid when in water. However, out of water, they can become defensive, using their powerful jaws as a form of protection.

An interesting fact is that snapping turtles hardly bask, preferring to stay underwater. They can hold their breath for extended periods—sometimes up to several hours. Therefore, don’t be alarmed if your pet spends a lot of time underwater, this is a typical behavior for these hardy creatures.

The mating season for snapping turtles typically occurs in the spring. Male turtles engage in fierce combat for the attention of females. After mating, the female embarks on a journey to find a suitable place to lay her eggs, which can often lead her away from water. If you are considering breeding your turtles, remember, this period requires close observation and care to ensure the safety of the female and her offspring.


Handling snapping turtles is a subject that requires utmost seriousness. Due to their powerful bite, they must be handled with care and only when necessary. I strongly advise against handling large adults due to their strength and aggression when out of water. When it is absolutely essential to handle your turtle, grasp it gently at the back of its shell to keep clear of its reach.

When keeping a common snapping turtle, you must remember that you’re dealing with a creature that is hard-wired to protect itself when it feels threatened. Thus, you need to take steps to ensure that your pet feels safe and secure in its enclosure. I can assure you, understanding and respecting your turtle’s behavior will lead to a more rewarding and safer experience for both of you.

Common Snapping Turtle Cost

Below is the unambiguous breakdown of the costs you’ll need to consider when deciding to welcome this fascinating creature into your life. Caring for these turtles is a remarkable journey, but it does come with financial commitments. Let’s go through them together.

Initial Costs

  1. The Turtle Itself: Depending on where you acquire your turtle, you may have to pay a fee. Adoption fees can vary from $20 to $50, whereas buying a turtle from a breeder can cost upwards of $100, depending on the age and size of the turtle.
  2. Habitat Setup: Preparing the right environment for your turtle is vital and incurs some initial costs. A suitable tank can range from $100 to $200. Essential items such as a heat lamp ($20-$40), water heater and filter system ($50-$100), UVB lighting ($20-$40), and tank accessories like rocks or hides ($30-$60) all add up.
  3. Substrate: The cost of substrate varies based on type and size, but you can expect to spend around $20-$30 initially.
  4. Initial Dietary Needs: The cost of food will depend on the size of your turtle, but you can anticipate spending around $20 to start.

Ongoing Costs

  1. Feeding: Depending on the diet of your turtle, feeding costs can range from $10-$20 per month.
  2. Habitat Maintenance: This includes replacing filters, bulbs, and substrate as needed, which can add up to $10-$20 per month.
  3. Veterinary Costs: Regular check-ups and unexpected health issues can add to your expenses. Routine vet visits can cost around $50 per visit, not including potential treatment costs.
  4. Emergencies: It’s wise to set aside some funds for emergencies – you never know when an unforeseen health issue may arise.

Common Health Issues in Common Snapping Turtles


1. Vitamin A Deficiency

A common affliction in snapping turtles is Vitamin A deficiency, often a result of an inadequate diet. Symptoms may include swollen eyes and a lack of appetite. The deficiency can cause serious damage to the turtle’s skin, blood vessels, and bones, affecting its overall health.

2. Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is a serious condition caused by improper calcium-phosphorus balance in a turtle’s diet. Turtles suffering from MBD may exhibit soft shells, abnormal growth, and lethargy. This condition can significantly reduce the quality of life and lifespan of your turtle.

3. Aural Abscesses

These are often seen as puffy, soft swellings on the side of a turtle’s head. Caused by Vitamin A deficiency or bacterial infection, aural abscesses can hinder your turtle’s feeding and overall activity.

4. Eye Infections

Eye infections are another common issue in snapping turtles. Symptoms include puffy or swollen eyes. These infections can stem from poor water quality or nutritional deficiencies and can lead to significant vision problems if left untreated.

5. Internal Parasites

Internal parasites can invade your turtle’s digestive tract, causing a range of issues, from weight loss to severe discomfort. Regular fecal examinations by a vet are crucial to detect and manage such infestations.

6. Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections, often resulting from poor living conditions, manifest as symptoms like nasal discharge, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Swift diagnosis and treatment are vital to prevent complications.

7. Egg Retention

Female turtles can sometimes face difficulty passing their eggs, leading to severe discomfort and health risks. This condition requires immediate veterinary attention to safeguard the health of the female turtle.

8. Obesity

Overfeeding and lack of exercise can lead to obesity in snapping turtles. This condition can make them susceptible to other health issues, hinder their mobility, and decrease their lifespan.


Caring for common snapping turtles requires careful consideration and attention to their unique needs. These fascinating creatures, known for their sharp beaks, strong jaws, and fierce disposition, can make for rewarding pets when provided with the right environment and care.

By ensuring a suitable habitat with adequate space, clean water, and appropriate temperature, you can promote their health and well-being. Regular feeding, consisting of a balanced diet and occasional treats, helps meet their nutritional requirements. Handling common snapping turtles should be done with caution and only when necessary, considering their potentially aggressive nature and their need for a stress-free environment.

Additionally, providing opportunities for exercise, enrichment, and environmental stimulation enhances their overall quality of life. Finally, it is essential to stay informed about local regulations and the potential impact of releasing common snapping turtles into the wild. With proper care and responsible ownership, you can provide a safe and fulfilling life for your common snapping turtle.

Filled under: Turtles and Tortoises

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