Baby Snapping Turtle Care Basics

Updated: June 8, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell

Baby Snapping Turtle Care

Learn proper baby snapping turtle care and you’ll set up your adorable pet to live a happy and long life. They start out small but eventually grow into very large adults that can live for 30 to 50 years, so you need to consider this long-term commitment carefully.

Caring for these unique reptiles is a rewarding experience and quite easily done if you are consistent in the maintenance of their tank and their health. Baby snapping turtles can be housed in a 15-gallon tank, but as adults, they will require a 150-to-200-gallon tank or an outdoor pond to thrive, so you need to be ready for the space they will take up as they grow.

Additionally, some species of snapping turtles are endangered, so first check your state laws to see if it is legal to own one before diving in to setting up their tank!

Read on to see what you will need to do to keep your baby snapping turtle happy and snappy!

Baby Snapping Turtles: A Natural History

Snapping turtles are native to the southeastern parts of North America. Their natural habitat is fairly shallow fresh-to-brackish bodies of water that allow them to submerge themselves and swim freely but also hunt amongst the rocks for their prey.

As far as turtles go, snapping turtles are quite strange-looking because they are clawed and have extremely rough, bumpy skin, which gives them a prehistoric look. They have flattened shells with a dark top (carapace) and a lighter belly (plastron). Their bodies can be a variety of colors, including dark brown to orange!

Some species of snapping turtle, like the alligator snapping turtle, have been hunted freely in their natural habitat for their meat, which many people consider a delicacy. Unfortunately, this has led to them becoming endangered.

It is important to make sure you buy or adopt your common snapping turtle baby from a reliable breeder so as to not affect the wild population negatively.

Baby Snapping Turtles: Behavior and Temperament

Snapping turtles are aggressive and highly opportunistic in nature. Baby snapping turtles are no less feisty! They will happily take a chomp out of anything they assume is food whether you wish them to or not (such as a stray finger!).

Baby snapping turtles are, however, generally shy in nature and will find places to hide away in their enclosure to avoid being seen or interacted with when they are stressed. This is their strongest defense mechanism to keep them safe from much larger predators.

If your baby snapping turtle feels like they are backed into a corner, they will lash out and snap at anything that is too close to them. They have painful bites that do break the skin, so it is important to handle and approach these turtles gently and with caution.

Both baby and adult snapping turtles are nocturnal in the wild and in captivity, which means they are most active at night and will rest during the day.

Baby Snapping Turtles: Behavior and Temperament

Setting Up Your Baby Snapping Turtle’s Enclosure

Getting your baby snapping turtle’s enclosure as close to what they would experience in the wild is important in prolonging their lives and ensuring they are completely comfortable.

Enclosure Size

Baby snapping turtles can be housed in a 20-gallon tank. At this stage, they will be between 4 and 9 inches in length. However, as they grow in size, their tank will need to grow with them Adults can grow to 16 inches on average.

As a rule of thumb, for every inch of shell, add 5 to 10 gallons to the tank. This means that a fully grown snapping turtle will need an enclosure that is 150 to 200 gallons! Once they have exceeded 10 inches in length, they can also be housed in an outdoor pond.

If these enclosure sizes are too big for you, check out our list of turtles that may have needs that better meet yours.

If you wish to set up an outdoor pond, you will need to ensure your climate is suitable for them. Areas with colder climates are often too harsh for snapping turtles to withstand comfortably without some kind of supplemental heating.

Enclosure Type

A solid, aquarium-type enclosure is necessary, as these are almost entirely aquatic animals and need the tank to have several inches of water in it. Snapping turtles spend most of their time in water and only come out to bask or mate.

The enclosure should be sturdy and provide your baby snapping turtle with plenty or room to swim around.

Substrate

As we touched on earlier, baby snapping turtles will try to ingest whatever they can. Therefore, the substrate you use will need to be large enough that they cannot fit it into their mouths. The substrate also needs to be fine enough that it will pass through their system without damage if they do eat it.

The bottom of the tank should be covered in large, flat river stones or something of the like. This should provide your baby snapping turtle with a natural-feeling layer to walk along and sit on.

Baby snapping turtles also need a large, flat basking spot that allows them to sit comfortably. It’s best to simply use a large rock that is slightly submerged but also shallow enough for them to leave their heads poking out of the water. This is how they will sleep. When they are babies, snapping turtles will drown if they do not have this type of perch.

You can create this shallow spot for them by stacking rocks up on one side of the enclosure to form a little ledge. As they grow older and bigger, you can reduce the height of the ledge so when your turtle uses it, their shell is submerged, but their head is still above water.

Decorations

It is important to provide your baby snapping turtle with places to hide in their tank so they feel safe and secure. Fake plants or even real ones such as water lettuce and duckweed can provide this coverage. Keep in mind, though, that with some plants, your snapping turtle may start taking chunks out of them.

Instead of more leafy foliage, you can include branches, hollow logs (or PVC pipes), large stones, or other decorations for your baby snapping turtle to hide behind.

Always remember to leave plenty of free swimming space in the enclosure for your baby snapping turtle to move around in. Avoid placing too much clutter near the basking area.

Heating

Snapping turtles need warm water. They are reptiles, and if they live in water that is too cold for them, their metabolism and other body processes will slow down, and they will eventually become sick and die.

The water in the tank should be heated with a water heater that is set at 76°F. The water heater will run constantly to keep the water at this temperature. When you are cleaning the tank and cycling the water, ensure the heater is never exposed to the air, as it will malfunction.

The basking spot on one side of the tank should have a white heat lamp above it. The spot should be 80°F to 85°F. The heat from this spot will enable your baby snapping turtle to control its metabolism. You should have a thermometer monitoring the temperature at all times.

Water Parameters

Be sure to set up the tank a week or two before your baby snapping turtle arrives. This gives you enough time to ensure the water parameters are met, and you can fiddle with the heating settings until they are consistently perfect.

ParameterDesired Level
Ammonia0
NitratesAs close to 0 as possible
Nitrites0
pH0.8–7.2

The water will need to be conditioned and dechlorinated as a fish tank would be. Installing a filter is essential because snapping turtles are very messy, and you will need to do complete water changes without a filter every two to three days instead of once a week.

To ensure appropriate aeration and maximum oxygenation in the tank, a bubbler should also be installed.

Lighting

UVB lighting is not 100% essential for baby snapping turtles. However, it can encourage their natural behaviors and improve their overall health. Therefore, I would suggest installing a UVB light in the enclosure that is on for 12 hours of the day and off for the remaining 12 hours.

This will provide your baby snapping turtle with a predictable photocycle that is similar to what they would experience in the wild.

Baby Snapping Turtle’s Diet

Snapping turtles are omnivores, so they eat a combination of plant and animal matter. They have a larger need for protein than plant matter when they are younger, and as they get older, this ratio gradually reverses. This is because they are growing rapidly, building strong muscles and bones, and developing healthy organs.

Baby Snapping Turtle’s Diet

Here’s the ideal ratio to follow for your snapping turtle’s diet at both the baby and adult stages.

Baby snapping turtles: 70% protein : 20% plant matter : 10% commercial food

Adult snapping turtles: 60% plant matter : 30% protein : 10% commercial food

Protein

There are many options for protein for your baby snapping turtle. The real restriction for diet is the size of the prey item. The prey item cannot be larger than the space between your baby snapping turtle’s eyes or it will pose health risks such as choking and impaction.

Good choices for protein include:

  • Crickets
  • Tadpoles
  • Pollywogs (larger tadpoles)
  • Dubia roaches
  • Chopped-up nightcrawlers (very large earthworms)
  • Phoenix worms
  • Shrimp
  • Bloodworms
  • Tubifex

Plant Matter

The plant matter you include in your baby snapping turtle’s diet is there to aid digestion and to boost their vitamin and mineral intake. Avoid foods high in phosphorus and oxalates, as these prevent the absorption of calcium.

Good plant matter to include in your baby snapping turtle’s diet includes:

  • Collard greens
  • Water lettuce
  • Duckweed
  • Mustard greens

Commercial Food

It is always good to supplement your snapper’s fresh diet with some commercial food designed for turtles that can be found at most pet shops as well as purchased from online retailers like Amazon. Many types of commercial food for snapping turtles are jam-packed full of nutrients that your snapper may be lacking.

Keep in mind, though, that feeding your turtle only pre-packaged commercial foods becomes boring for them, and it can eventually cause them to lose their interest in their food. Many varieties are also quite high in calories. This type of food should only make up 10% of your baby snapping turtle’s diet.

Supplements

Calcium and Vitamin A supplements are essential for your baby snapping turtle. These supplement or add to the fresh food they should be getting. Dust your baby snapping turtle’s food every second day with their supplements.

For a far more in-depth look at what baby snapping turtles eat, check out our dedicated article!

FAQs About Baby Snapping Turtle Care

Can I keep multiple baby snapping turtles together in the same tank?

Snapping turtles are aggressive, solitary animals. This aggression forms when they are babies. If they are faced with another snapping turtle, they will become violent and attack each other no matter the size of the tank that they are in.

Therefore, you cannot keep more than one snapping turtle in a tank.

Can I add a baby snapping turtle to my community aquarium?

Snapping turtles can perceive almost anything as food. This means whatever you have in the tank will get eaten or at least nibbled on regardless of whether your snapping turtle is kept well-fed and full. If you put a snapping turtle into your community aquarium, you will have to replace the fish every week. It’s best to keep them in tanks by themselves without fish or any other animals.

Can I handle my baby snapping turtle?

Snapping turtle bites hurt. Even baby snapping turtles have a painful bite! You should always be very careful when handling them, and you should not handle them more than necessary.

Necessary handling includes moving them to their feeding tank, medical examinations, and giving them a bath. Your snapping turtle should not be handled any more than this to reduce the chance of a bite and to reduce the stress placed on your turtle.

If you want a reptile that is great for handling, check out or article on lizards that love your touch!

Do snapping turtles have any genetic or health issues?

The biggest worry you will likely have when it comes to common health issues in snapping turtles is shell rot. Shell rot needs to be addressed quickly, as it can lead to deadly infections if it grows beyond the turtle’s shell and into their skin, muscle, and vital organs.

Check out our dedicated article to help you identify shell rot vs shedding and what to do in both cases.

Coming Out of Their Shell…

To perfect your baby snapping turtle care regimen, you will need patience, lots of space, dedication, and a whole load of research. These unique turtles are rewarding pets, but they require specific conditions to be met such as a consistent, comfortable temperature and a healthy diet in order to thrive.

Thankfully, snapping turtles are hardy creatures once they have grown out of their baby phase. Therefore, the care you give them in this stage of their lives needs to be consistent and of high quality for them to live long, happy lives as adults.

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