Species group: Snapping and Alligator Snapping Turtles
Other common names: Snapping Turtle, Northern Snapping Turtle, “Loggerhead”, “Snapper”
Scientific name: Chelydra serpentina
Large, aggressive, and about as “dinosaur-like” as a turtle can be, Common Snapping Turtles are often collected as hatchlings by turtle enthusiasts. While these formidable “swamp monsters” are among the hardiest (sometimes being active in iced-over ponds!) and most interesting of all turtles, Snappers can be dangerous, and grow far too large (to 80+ pounds), for any but the most experienced adult keepers (with time, space and extra cash on hand!).
The Common Snapping Turtle’s huge range extends from southern Canada through most of the USA east of the Rocky Mountains to Texas. Introduced populations, derived from released pets and meat farm escapees, are established in the western USA (California, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada), Japan, China, and Taiwan.
Snapping Turtles spend the majority of their lives in water, favoring shallow, heavily-vegetated swamps, ponds, canals, and bogs. However, they are also common in deep lakes and the waterways of NYC and other urban centers; certain populations have evolved unique adaptations to life in brackish tidal rivers.
Appearance / Health:
Common Snapping Turtles have a massive head, powerful jaws and a long neck. The dark, 12-20 inch carapace (upper shell) is keeled, and serrated at the rear edge. The plastron (lower shell) is quite small. The tail is thick, as long as the carapace, and topped with ridges. At an adult weight of 20-86 pounds, this is the USA’s second-largest fresh-water turtle.
These ponderous survivors of eons past are very hardy, with captive longevities approaching 50 years. While subject to all common turtle ailments - metabolic bone disease, egg retention, and fungal/bacterial infections of the shell, skin, and eyes, Snappers are much more resilient than most. Wild-caught individuals should be tested for internal parasites by a veterinarian.
Behavior / Temperament:
While Snappers adjust well to captivity, many remain defensive for years and all will strike at nearby movements in hopes of securing a meal. Bites can be very severe, with large individuals being capable of inflicting serious, permanent injuries. They should never be fed by hand, and picked up only after one is trained by an experienced handler in the single safe method of doing so. Common Snappers are not suitable pets for children (or anyone with a free ranging cat, bird, dog, iguana…!).
Snappers do best in relatively-shallow enclosures equipped with sub-surface basking sites (they rarely bask on land) and powerful filtration. Room temperatures suit this cold-tolerant creature, but a basking site (above the sub-surface resting area) of 78-80 F should be available. Individuals up to 10 inches in length can be accommodated in 55-75 gallon aquariums, but larger tanks and outdoor ponds become necessary as they mature.
Snapping Turtles can utilize dietary Vitamin D, and, if provided a healthful diet, do not require UVB exposure.
Powerful filters are necessary unless the enclosure can be emptied and cleaned several times weekly. Even with filtration, regular partial water changes are essential. Removing your turtles to an easily-cleaned container for feeding will lessen the filter’s workload.
Common Snapping Turtles are at the very top of the food chain in their habitats, consuming other turtles, fish, tadpoles, crayfish, snakes, snails, carrion, frogs, worms, insects, ducks, and muskrats and other aquatic mammals. Aquatic vegetation and fallen fruits and acorns are also taken on occasion.
Pets should be fed earthworms, snails, pre-killed pink mice, crayfish, shiners and other whole, fresh-water fishes (a steady diet of goldfish has been linked to health concerns in other turtle species). Crickets and other insects can be used to add variety to the diet of younger animals. A high-quality dry turtle chow can comprise up to 50% of the diet. A cuttlebone should be available to supplement the calcium provided by whole fishes.
Males become sexually mature when approximately 3-4 years old and females at age 4-7. Mature males may be distinguished their long, thick tails, concave plastrons, thick forearms, and generally larger size. Breeding usually occurs in early spring, with normal room temperature fluctuations being sufficient to stimulate mating activity.
Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 10-15 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and that pets may produce 2-3 clutches each year. The 6-100+ eggs may be incubated in a mix of 1 part vermiculite to 1 part water (by weight) at 78-85 F for 55-80 days.
Written by Frank Indiviglio
fascinating turtles, advanced reptile owners
aggressive, large pool, bone crushing bite, huge filters, daily cleaning, powerful jaws
ravenous eaters, varied diet, turtle pellets, raw meat, angry swamp creatures
Cool pet, needs a lot of space
As a teenager I was hanging out with my best friend in the barn they were building. They had just bought a ton of sand, ripped the bags open and dumped them on the floor of the building. Something bumped my toe in the sand and I dug to find this tiny dead snapper. Me and my friend were thrilled, thinking we could clean the shell out and make something cool. We put it in a dish of water and as it turns out, it wasn't quite so dead.
There were a lot of snapping turtles in the area but we'd never found one so small and cute, so we took it to her cousin who used to raise turtles and asked what we could do with him. He got us a tank for Little Foot and showed us the ins and outs of caring for him. It was a group pet and the three of us took turns with his care. We would buy minnows from the pet store when he was small, pierce them with a wire, dangle them in front of him, and he would snap at them. He was cute in the ugliest sort of way and after a few weeks we were able to hold him for short periods without him getting too grumpy.
Little Foot had an insatiable appetite and loved to eat (you can't feed a snapper till it's full, they will get sick), and he did not stay little very long. We gave him a half water, half land tank next and started releasing minnows inside. He loved to catch them on his own and while it might sound strange, he has always seemed like a happy turtle.
Then he got too big for the house. If you have ever seen a full grown snapping turtle, well, they're big. Little Foot now lives with the aforementioned cousin in a pond in his back yard. The yard is fenced but he seems content to stay in the pond anyway. When they aren't in tanks, they tend to get a bit more wild and Little Foot won't approach anyone unless they have a peace offering that looks delicious. He won't outright attack anyone, but I'm not keen on getting close to him these days as I'd like to keep my toes!
Things to keep in mind, 1. When they are young, they smell worse than any pet I have ever owned even when cleaning their tanks two to three times weekly. Worse than ferrets, snakes, other turtles, dogs etc. 2. Their tanks get dirtier faster than other turtles. 3. They will need a larger tank soon if not an outdoor pond (koi pond size). 4. You cannot send a snapper back into the wild after it has been a pet and you will have trouble finding anyone to take one of these off your hands. 5. This is not a turtle to pick up and play with all the time. 6. You can overfeed a snapper and make it sick, don't let it eat until it's full or you'll have an obese snapper. 7. They can live for decades; you cannot take them with you to your college dorm or first crappy apartment. This is a pet for someone who already lives in a permanent home and has a backyard for a pond. 8. They are sort of like the cacti of the reptile world. They aren't the best smelling, prettiest, or friendliest, but they're easy to keep alive..
From ElisaFleming Mar 23 2015 6:38PM
Common Snapping Turtle - Chelydra serpentina
The Common Snapping Turtle is a parculiar and interesting animal. They are well adapted to their enviroment. Built like a millitary tank they have a jadded shell to protect them, a lightning fast stike, a set of jaws like the jaws of life and a tail like an alligator. This is an amazing animal to say the least and I have to admit this is one of the most incredible animals i have ever kept and worked with but because of their large size as adults you will need some space to be able to keep these outside. They will need a large pond, with a UV Sterilizer and a powerful canister filter. They need to be feed on dead whole animals such as fish, rats, mice, and day old chicks. I am inclined to say these are too big to make good pets and are known for being very bitey, but as long as you provide them with enough space they should do just fine and stay away from the sharp end. I have kept these and I did receive a litter of eggs from one of the females but none hatched. It could have been because of the way I was incubating them, the low levels of humidity in the area I was keeping them, lack of good nutrition as the owner of the zoo didn't take good care of is animals, or they were infertile eggs from the start. They are actually very easy to breed. this species needs a multivitamin supplement and calcium + vitamin D3 daily will all their veggies and or meat. This is an omnivorous species..
From RobWedderburn Oct 30 2015 3:38PM
An Animal Best Left Outdoors
Snapping turtles are a poor choice for a pet due to their attitude, size, and requirements. They can easily harm you as adults with their powerful jaws and aggressive behavior. Most pet snapping turtles are found as hatchlings outside - if you see a baby snapping turtle outside, leave it be! I was bite twice by my snapping turtle and they deliver a painful bite and don't like letting go. They can easily bite off a finger or toe.
Due to their size, they require a huge enclosure. A small pond is minimum for an adult. They can get to 50+ pounds! As they are native in many places across North America, they are illegal to own as pets without permits.
Cleaning their enclosure is difficult and will require a strong filter. Their feces are messy and can carry salmonella so when cleaning, gloves must be used and be extremely cautious not to get any water in your eyes or in any scabs or cuts!
The snapping turtles I have worked with readily take any food dropped into their enclosure and are aggressive eaters. Prey is quickly torn apart. Fish and mice are good choices for food to give them and watching them eat can be entertaining.
Overall, these turtles are not good in captivity but can also be fun to watch and if you are someone who is willing to put in the work for these animals, they can be rewarding to keep..
From fayleigh Aug 22 2015 12:38PM