Common Snapping Turtle

Image Credit : Le Ferme Tropicale

Common snapping turtle has a rugged, muscular build with ridged carapaces. These turtles have a large head with a hooked jaw. Their colors are usually dull brown to black. They have webbed feet with long claws and a very long tail. The tail has a single series of elongate dorsal scales, giving it a saw-toothed appearance.

Juvenile snapping turtles are darker, almost black, and tend to have a more rough carapace than adults. Depending on the local, females can grow larger than male and vice versa.

  • Scientific name : Chelydra seprentina
  • Distribution : Southern Canada, Eastern-Central USA
  • Average Size : 0.35 m (1.15 ft)
  • Life Span : 30 years or more
  • Difficulty : Advanced


The Snapping turtle needs plenty of room whether they are young or old. A hatchling will quickly outgrow its enclosure so be prepared. Snapping turtles are shy and need places they can hide to feel safe/secure. Small turtles can be given pre-made caves which can be purchased from pet stores. Larger turtle can be given a floating hide but caution must be taken so the turtles don’t bite and swallow the materials. Snapping turtles are curious about items placed in their homes. Pumps, filters, hides, plants, etc. can and will be destroyed. Aquariums, stock tanks, plastic tubs are all excellent places to house turtles. The more room the better. Adults should have enough room to easily turn around and have room to swim. Common Snapping turtles love to explore and investigate their homes.
Outdoor enclosures should provide deep enough water for the turtle to keep cool on the hot days. If brumated in sub-freezing temperatures, ponds should not be allowed to freeze solid. These enclosures should be designed to keep predators out especially if the turtles are small.
These turtles grow fast and get large and are capable of inflicting injuries. These are not a beginner’s turtle.
Water levels should allow the turtle to swim but should also allow the turtle to rest on the bottom of a platform so they can easily stretch their neck up to get a breath. Care must be taken to not allow turtles a place to climb out. Snapping turtles are strong, excellent climbers and will test their home for places to escape. They use their strong tails to assist in climbing. Snapping turtles are a secretive animal, providing a place for them to hide will reduce the amount of stress they have. Caution must be taken when using a hide. Snapping turtles can and will tear up any foreign object in their water. They are curious and will sometimes eat things they find in their water.


Substrate must be used with caution. Snapping turtles use a vacuum action when eating, gulping in a great deal of water with their prey. If that prey is on a small substrate like sand, gravel, or small rocks that too with be taken in and possibly swallowed. This can cause intestinal blockages and lead to death. No substrate at all is acceptable but a wary eye must be kept on the turtle’s claws as some cases of abnormal nail growth (nails curling towards the bottom of the foot) have been reported.

Don’t let your decision to use a substrate be based on aesthetics. Safety should be the only concern. If large rocks are used be sure those rocks can’t shift and pin the turtle. Snapping turtles are very strong and can move rocks many times their own weight/size.

Lighting – Heating

Snapping turtles do bask in the sun. This benefits them in two ways, the sun provides UV (ultraviolet light) and to thermoregulate their body temperature. UV can be provided. Keeping a water temperature at approximately 26 ºC (80 ºF) will aid in digestion and keep the immune system working well.


Clean water is essential to the health and wellbeing of a snapping turtle. A filter will also reduce the amount of water changes that are needed. Snapping turtle produce a lot of solid waste and their urine is high in Ammonia. Bioactive filters can help manage the ammonia and waste problem but water changes are still necessary. Some turtles are sensitive to the Chlorines and Chloramines in city tap water, it irritates their eyes. For those turtles a neutralizer may be needed.


Young snapping turtles are mostly carnivorous but these turtles should be offered a variety of vegetation before they reach maturity. If you wait until they are adults before introducing fruits and vegetables, by that time they may not recognize these foods as something edible.
You can feed lean hormone-free beef, shrimp, tilapia, salmon, pork, chicken, night crawlers, bugs, mice (frozen thawed), rats(F/T), Guppies, Mollies, Gambusia (mosquito fish), crickets, earthworms, Waxworms, Hornworms, spiders, moths, grasshoppers, June Bugs, Mayflies, Wood Lice, Silk Worms, Meal Worms, Phoenix Worms, grubs, etc. NO MINNOWS OR GOLDFISH, they contain an enzyme called Thiaminase. This enzyme blocks the absorption of vitamin B1. This can lead to neurological issues and death.
Once an adult, they can become more of an herbivore. Safe plants are: Pondweed, Red Ludwigia, Arrowhead, Crystalwort (Riccia fluitans), Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus), Java Moss (Hypnaceae family), Hair Grass (Several families), Azolla (mosquito fern, duckweed fern, fairy moss, water fern), Water Lettuce (Pistia), Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), Amazon Swords (Echinodorus grisebachii), Anacharis (Elodea), Water Lily (Family of Nyphaeaceae), Hornworts (a group of bryophytes, or non-vascular plants, comprising the division Anthocerotophyta), Romaine Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. var. longifolia).
Wild caught food usually comes with a parasite load. These may infect your turtle as a parasite host. An infected turtle can easily transfer it to a keeper or to other turtles in a collection.


These turtles are not noted for being social, most are pre-wired to be shy and afraid. As with most turtles they are food driven and if hand fed will associate your hand and possibly you as food. Working with these turtle can reduce their stress and help to socialize them. Understand, some will never trust and never be a hands-on turtle. There are exceptions to this rule, only time will tell. We do not recommend letting young children handle them or get near the turtle’s mouth. These turtles also process powerful legs and sharp claws.


If the water quality is kept well the turtle should require little additional cleaning. They will shed skin, which will drop off. Their shell from time to time can be wiped off with a wet, soft cloth. If algae need to be removed, a soft bristled brush can be used. Their shells are very sensitive to touch, so be gentle.

Potential Health Problems

Wild caught turtles usually come with a parasite load and should have a fecal float done to determine if treatment is needed. It is recommended that you locate a qualified reptile veterinarian in your area for future needs.
Captive bred turtles can be much healthier and do not have a negative affect wild populations.
These are hearty turtles and should do well as long as their housing, water and care needs are being met. Learning your turtle’s routine will help you spot possible health problems. Monthly visual checks of your turtle will help you spot any developing problem.


Snapping Turtle Fanatics

The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.