Snapping Turtles

Common Snapping Turtle, Florida Snapping Turtle, Mexican Snapping Turtle, Northern Common Snapping Turtle

Family: Chelydridae Picture of a Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentinaChelydra serpentinaPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Ken Childs
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I have a Wonderful Common Snapper. He is about 5 or 6 months old. We rescued him from our chicken hutch. Luckily we found hi before they did. He comes to me and... (more)  sandra

   The pugnacious attitude of the Snapping Turtles makes them great feeders, and therefore healthy resilient captives!

   Though Snapping Turtles are aggressive, these feisty little beasts are hardy. They are good captives because they are cold tolerant, will eat a variety of food, and are very hardy when kept in the proper enclosure. Those hobbyists keeping them are successfully breeding them. As they are aggressive turtles, they will often strike out viciously at their keepers and will definitely kill and eat any creature kept with them, often even other snapping turtles. They are best kept individually and admired as prehistoric-looking, wonderful beasts and not pets to be held or coddled.

   Snapping Turtles do get much larger than most keepers can manage. Once they get too large, they are often offered to local zoos (which have no room for these large, aggressive turtles) or they are released into the local lake or waterway. This is, of course, a HUGE mistake. Unwanted specimens should be offered to a local turtle club or adoption group and NOT be released into nature.

For more Information see:
Selecting and Caring for Your Turtle or Tortoise

Geographic Distribution
Chelydra serpentina
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  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Testudines
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Genus: Chelydra
  • Species: serpentina

Distribution:    The turtles described here comprise the genera known as Chelydra. There are four subspecies of Chelydra serpentina found from Canada southeast to Florida and south to Mexico and Central America.

  • Common Snapping Turtle
    Chelydra serpentina serpentina
  • Florida Snapping Turtle
    Chelydra serpentina osceola
  • Mexican Snapping Turtle
    Chelydra serpentina rossignoni
  • Northern Common Snapping Turtle
    Chelydra serpentina acutirostris

   These turtles belong to the family Chelydridae along with the Alligator Snapping Turtle Macrochelys temminckii.
   Some other turtles closely aligned with the snapping turtles are the Big-headed Turtles in the genera Platysternon, which has 5 subspecies. Exact taxonomical placement of these turtles has been the subject of some controversy over the years. Sometimes they are placed in the Chelydridae family, but they are also sometimes placed in their own separate family, the Platysternidae.

Status   These turtles are not listed on the IUCN Red List.

Description:    Common Snapping Turtles are easily recognizable by even the most novice keepers. They can vary in color from browns, blacks, and even cream (leucistic or hypomelanistic specimens). They have rough shells with peaks and ridges. Their heads are large with muscular jaws and sharp, pointed beaks. They also have a long muscular tail. Chelydra reach an adult size of 18" (45 cm) with males slightly larger than females.

Care and Feeding:    Snapping turtles are omnivorous in nature, feeding on a wide variety of live prey and also eating floating aquatic vegetation. In captivity, they feed aggressively on fish, worms, and crayfish, and will eat floating commercial pellets as hatchlings, juveniles, and adults. They eat so well, in fact, that they can become quite overweight in captivity. By not overfeeding them, and by keeping their cage decorations complex and giving them large enclosures, keepers can keep their snappers healthy and happy.

   Common Snappers are great display animals in large enclosures. They do very well in outdoor ponds. They will, however, eat any creature, including other turtles and so they are not a good choice for an outdoor community pond. They are not particularly picky about water quality, pH, or decorations, but using driftwood and aquatic plants will provide a naturalistic environment for them. Some creativity in the enclosure can provide them with exercise that is very important for captive Snapping Turtles.
   Indoors, a basic setup using a large tub or stock tank will be sufficient to hold a medium to large adult. Add an efficient filtration system as they are messy eaters, consuming a lot of high protein food. A shop light fixture with UVB-emitting bulbs and a 100-watt spotlight should be mounted above one end. Common Snapping Turtles rarely bask (they tend to wander on land rather than bask), but we suggest adding the basking spot in case the turtles would like to climb up and dry out a little. Add a variety of floating and submerged aquatic plants to the snapping turtle enclosure. In addition to helping keep the water clean and healthy, plants will add some variety to their diet.
   Care must be taken that these, and any turtles, are not released into a wild habitat. The reasons are many. The introduction of non-native species can lead to the introduction of diseases and can lead to hybridization of introduced and native species. In addition, many turtles raised in captivity and released into wild situations are confused, unable to cope with extreme weather changes, and many surely fall prey quite quickly to the wary predators they may encounter.

Handling:    Captive-hatched specimens, as always, are the best to keep as pets but these turtles are quite aggressive. They will often strike out viciously at their keepers and will definitely kill and eat any creature kept with them. They are best kept individually and admired as prehistoric-looking, wonderful beasts and not pets to be held or coddled.

Breeding:    Breeding in Common Snapping Turtles is aggressive, but simple. The change from a cool winter to a warm spring and summer is their trigger. Snapping Turtles are typically quite prolific and they tend to copulate under a variety of conditions. Disturbances don't throw them off task, unlike their cousin the Alligator Snapping Turtle, which is very shy and will leave both copulation and egg-laying if even slightly disturbed.
   The ideal breeding conditions indoors are to keep the male and female in separate enclosures until breeding time in the early spring. If kept together, they can be hostile, especially during feeding and they can injure each other with their powerful jaws. Seasonal fluctuation from a cool winter to warm spring and summer is an important trigger for most snapping turtle reproduction.
   Female Common Snapping Turtles have a strong egg-laying instinct and will even climb out of a fully aquatic enclosure to lay their eggs. Females have been known to walk up wooden planks from an above ground pool to find the right laying conditions. In an outdoor pond situation, snapping turtles have reproduced well. They typically lay clutches of 10-15 eggs that hatch in 80-85 days at 82{deg} F (28{deg} C). They have a high rate of fertility and a large percentage of the eggs hatch, producing healthy, vigorous babies.
   Babies are shy when handled, but do very well and grow rapidly. They feed aggressively on a multitude of food items, including both live and commercially prepared foods. They are especially fond of guppies and redworms.

Ailments / Health Problems:    None are common in Snapping Turtles kept singly. However, if kept with others injuries from fighting are fairly common, especially in cramped conditions. Young snapping turtles with missing tail tips are often encountered. Captive-raised specimens exhibiting shell deformities, such as "curling", is due to an improper diet.
   Captive Snapping Turtles are often overweight. Captivity-related obesity affects the kidneys and liver, and often leads to premature death. This obesity results from a diet too high in fat and protein, overfeeding, and cramped captive conditions.

Availability:    Snapping turtles are available from a variety of sources such as better pet stores and breeders at the larger reptile shows across the country.
   A new keeper should try to find specimens that are captive-hatched and at least three months old to ensure the turtle has been feeding well and is well on its way to a strong start. As they are produced in huge numbers by breeders in Florida (C. s. osceola) and from one breeder in Iowa (C. s. serpentina), captive-hatched specimens are accessible.

Author: Russ Gurley
Edited by Animal-World.
Lastest Animal Stories on Snapping Turtle

sandra - 2014-01-19
I have a Wonderful Common Snapper. He is about 5 or 6 months old. We rescued him from our chicken hutch. Luckily we found hi before they did. He comes to me and stretches up the side like he wants out. After reading this I will start taking him out more often. He looks so sad in there and pushes himself to the edge as close to the family as he can get. I don't think he understands why he is in there and we are out here. He loves his belly rubs and under his neck to be rubbed...anything actually to be rubbed. He has never tried to bite me. I don't think he would take a chunk on purpose. Maybe I'm crazy but when he looks up with those big eyes he looks like he completely loves you. I'm crazy about Bubba T or Bubba Turtle... He definitely knows me and comes running we he hears my voice. Today his poop was green and he has been feeling kinda poorly not wanting to eat. Before he loved to eat reptamin sticks. Now nope. Ive been hand feeding him soft pellets mixed with pumpkin for the fiber and veggy content. I don't like it when he doesnt eat. I had him on antibiotic because he just wasn't acting like himself and although he showed no symptoms the vet gave me oral meds and i tickle his throat..opens wide and 3 drops go in. Then he looks at me like I just tricked least its cherry flavored. Probably would rather have liver flavored. I would love to know if meds cause green poop. He was constipated for a few days and was droopy cause of it. I would love to play with him I just don't want him to get cold. Love My Snapper Baby...putting in pond for him when warm comes!!

Helen - 2013-12-02
Hi, I have a year and a half babe snapper, the problem is curling shell- she was fine during the summer using all 4 legs, had her in a small baby pool with a little water, put in some grass for her to swim bask in for about an hour a day. A month later in Aug, she stopped using her back legs to walk- they can move she won't use them- shell looks funny? I keep her tank clean, have a molded swim pod/ bask thing in her tank, she is eating the pellets? DO not know of a vet in the area who can treat her. Can I treat her, fix the shell, and make her use her legs again? She is not aggressive at all. Reason I have her- found her as a hachling in our pool, weeks before that we found her mom on the back lawn- we took the mom down the road + put her in the creek? Do not know how she got on our lawn as it is far away from the creek. SO I have this little turtle now for a year, she found me!

  • Clarice Brough - 2013-12-10
    When the shell 'curls' at the edges, you need to check your Snapping Turtle's diet and its lighting/basking spot.

    Turtles have a special need for certain nutrients and it could very well be it is not be getting enough vitamin A, vitamin D3, and calcium. Most commercial pelleted turtle and fish foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Powdered or liquid vitamin and mineral supplements (available at pet and feed stores) can be mixed in food once or twice per week.

    It also needs access to a warm, dry basking spot. Put a 40 to 60 watt incandescent light over the basking area to create a 'hot spot' of about 80-85°F. Particularly in winter, a 'full-spectrum' fluorescent light is helpful. This can be a shoplight fixture with an UVB-emitting bulbs or bulbs such as Verilux®, Reptisun®, and Vita-lite®, usually available at a pet store.
sara - 2010-08-31
Why do turtles lay eggs?

  • veela - 2012-01-24
    Can you imagine if they gave live birth? Those spikey, serrated shells would probably tear the bejeebers out of the mother! Ouchies!!
  • brittney - 2012-12-04
    Well if they gave live birth they would die cuse the shells are so soft and they would get squished.
y.b. - 2010-03-31
i have a snapping turtle for almost 3 years, but I don't no the sex, how do you know wether it is a male or a female?
(please answer!thank's!!!)

  • melissa - 2011-05-07
    The mouth it's snap is different. The male's snap is bigger than the female and the female's mouth is soft and it's bigger than the male. Welcome
  • Anonymous - 2012-01-24
    You can tell by the placement of the vent in the adult snapper. In a male, the vent is about halfway down the tail. In the female, it's more between the hind legs or slightly behind. My male loves to show off his penis, so he took the guesswork out for me. (Incidentally, in the male snapper, the penis is almost black, is a simple rod shape and does not have the 'flower' look like the penises of most turtles and tortoises. The first time you see it, it looks like the turtle is pooping.)