Alligator Snapping Turtle: Ultimate Guide

Have you ever dreamt about owning your very own dinosaur? Do you want a pet that looks like it’s walked straight out a fantasy game? Then look no further than the Alligator Snapping Turtle. 

A freshwater turtle native to America, these little dinosaurs are not for the faint hearted. Weighing in at 175lbs on average are the heaviest species of turtles in the world. Unfortunately however due to hunting for their meat and destruction of their habitats the is declining and though not considered endangered, they are classed as a vulnerable species.

Definitely not suitable for the novice reptile owner, below we have compiled a list of everything you will need to know about owning one of these practically prehistoric pets!

Male vs Female

As a rule, the easiest way to differentiate between male and female alligator snapping turtles is through size. A male alligator snapping turtle is typically much larger than a female – reaching up to 220lbs whereas a female only grows to 50lbs.

Another way to differentiate between the two is through the position of the cloaca in relation to their shell. A female will have a thinner tail with the cloaca positioned near the edge of their shell, whilst a male’s cloaca generally protrudes beyond the shell. The male alligator snapping turtle als has a thicker tail in order to protect their reproductive organs.


Despite the name, these turtles are not actually related to alligators. The name instead comes from their distinctive shell design which mimics the ridges that you see on alligators. This shell is probably the Alligator Snapping turtle’s most definable feature and can be either black, green or dark gray in color.

Alligator Snapping Turtles are also identifiable from their large and intimidating head. The heads are heavy and impressive, featuring a strong mouth and a pointed tip, which is known as the beak. These powerful jaws are where the name snapping comes from as this is the turtles main source of attack.

As a Pet

If you are thinking of getting an Alligator snapping turtle as a pet you will first have to make sure that it is legal in your state to own one of these. In many states you will need a permit to buy, sell and own these turtles and some states simply ban them altogether.

These turtles are known to grow to mammoth sizes and as such they shouldn’t be in aquariums or terrariums and instead will need appropriately sized enclosures, outdoors if possible. A pond is an ideal habitat for these turtles


The typical lifespan of an Alligator Snapping Turtle in the wild is anywhere between 80 – 100 years though they have found proof of some living up to 200 years old! In captivity you can expect them to live for anywhere between 20 -70 years so this is definitely something potential owners will need to consider.


The Alligator Snapping Turtle has a few interesting adaptations. Unlike all other species of snapping turtle, their eyes are situated on the very sides of their head making their vision ideal for hunting prey from any angle.

On the tip of their tongue is a pink, worm-like lure which they use to trick and attract curious fish who end up swimming into close range the turtle’s powerful jaws.

They can also search for prey by tasting their chemicals in the water, this way even when the prey is hiding the turtles can still sense them nearby.

Breeding Season

Alligator Snapping turtles don’t tend to form strong bonds with other turtles, not even with their own offspring, so they are known to mate with multiple partners throughout their lifetime. 

Mating season tends to occur throughout the spring season with the hatchlings being born in Fall time.


A female Alligator Snapping turtle will be pregnant for around 2 months before laying 10-50 eggs in what is commonly known as a clutch. She will dig her nest 

The incubation period can last anywhere between 80 – 150 days and the sex of the baby is dependent on temperature. This is used throughout all turtle species and for Alligator Snapping turtles, a warmer temperature will produce more males than females. 

Growth Rate

To be considered modern day dinosaurs it should come as no surprise that these turtles are big. Growing at about a rate of 1 to 2 inches per year, a male Alligator Snapping Turtle should reach an average length of 26 inches (though lengths of around 30 inches have been observed).

Due to their incredible size these turtles are best cared for in the hands of an experienced reptile owner.

Life Cycle

From hatching to sexual maturity, on average this will take about 8 to 10 year for the Alligator Snapping Turtle. Once mature they will mate with many different partners over a lifetime and can live for 40 years or more.


Whilst not an endangered species, due to hunting for turtle meat and the destruction of habitats, the Alligator Snapping Turtle population has been on a heavy decline. In order to combat this some states have imposed bans on taking these turtles from the wild.


Whilst the Alligator Snapping turtle is technically an omnivorous species, they are known to survive on an almost completely carnivorous diet. Mostly surviving on a diet of fish they have been known to also eat amphibians, snakes, worms, water birds, plants and even other turles.

Despite their namesake there have been cases of them even eating baby alligators! Known as opportunistic predators they have been seen to eat possums, raccoons and even armadillos that wander too close to the water’s edge. 

In captivity, Alligator Snapping turtles survive on varied diets of pork, beed, fish and chicken.


The eggs and juveniles of the Alligator Snapping turtle are prey to predatory fish, raccoons and even some birds of prey. The adult snapping turtle however has no natural predator and is only prey to humans.

Roaming Range

This species of turtle is exclusive to the United States and can be found from northern Florida to easter Texas, with some sightings as far north as Iowa. 


Reptiles and amphibians carry the salmonella bacteria – a bacteria that can cause fever, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps in humans.

In the same way that humans should avoid consuming raw chicken, hands need to be washed frequently when handling a snapping turtle. This is particularly important for young children who are more prone to putting their hands in their mouth 

Algae build up can lead to infections or injuries on your turtle’s shell. If your turtle shows any sign of infection it is important to get them checked out by your veterinarian. Any owners can help tackle algae build up by manually cleaning their turtles shell using room temperature clean water and a soft brush

Eye Color

The eyes of the Alligator Snapping Turtle are a yellowish color and have a pattern of black spots which resemble the shape of a star or a cross.


It may come as a surprise that Alligator Snapping Turtles do not need to hibernate for very long. This is due to their southern origins and some experts consider hibernating your backyard turtle to be risky as the conditions of your backyard will likely be quite different to that of the wild.

If you do choose to hibernate your turtle, then you need to ensure its in a habitat that is comparable to it’s native one and expert advice is to wait a few years before hibernating any newly hatched turtles.

Can they swim?

This turtle species is almost entirely aquatic. They come out of water only to bask in the sun or to make nests for their eggs. Despite spending nearly all their time in water they don’t do much swimming, preferring rather to spend their time submerged, waiting for prey.


Correct care and attention is important no matter what type of animal you own. When looking after an Alligator Snapping Turtle it is important to provide the best sized enclosure and climate conditions that you can.

You should also maintain fresh and clean water for your turtle as well as maintaining the correct oxygen/nutrient levels. They should be fed a nutritious and varied diet with juveniles being fed everyday and adults every other day.

Keep in mind that Alligator Snapping Turtles are known to make quite a mess of their food! Because of this, any potential owners should filter and circulate their water on a regular basis.


The cost of an Alligator Snapping Turtle will depend on the age, size, quality and where you purchase it from. The average price of an alligator snapping turtle is usually between $40 and $75 for a baby with Alligator Snapping Turtle eggs costing anywhere from $250 to $350 each.

Fun Facts

An alligator snapping turtle has a bite force of over 1,000lb and their powerful jaws can snap through bone! So make sure to never handle one of these turtles in the wild.