Common Snapping Turtles: Ultimate Guide

If you’re a more advanced or experienced reptile owner looking to purchase the notorious snapping turtle, there are a lot of things to be aware of even if you’ve owned other turtle species or similar reptiles.

This species is one of the most aggressive turtle species in the US, and maybe the world, second in ferocity and intimidation to the alligator snapping turtle.

That being said, when cared for correctly, they make an impressive pet to behold and bring something different to your home if you have the experience and capability of handling their many unique needs and characteristics.

The first thing to note is that these are fairly large turtles, and as such, you’ll need plenty of space to care for them correctly. The second thing to be aware of, if you weren’t already aware, is that they are quite spunky and territorial, making them a pet to admire, but not exactly a pet to cuddle.

However, few turtles are really great for cuddling, and it makes them uncomfortable and anxious at best, or aggressive at worst, so this should come as no surprise.

Their unique, somewhat Jurassic-looking appearance combined with their size makes them a great talking point, and are a very interesting yet inexpensive species.

In this piece, we’re going to look at some of the specific traits of the Common Snapping turtle, from how to identify them, to specifics about the species and their behavior, biology, and life cycle.

As a fairly large species with a big personality, there’s a lot to know about these animals if you’re considering owning one as a pet, and getting all the information you need before you make your decision is the best way to decide if you’re ready to commit to this type of pet, as it has very particular characteristics you’re going to need to be able to handle, and most owners won’t be able to accommodate these.

Let’s start by taking a look at how to correctly identify your pet, to make sure you’re getting a legitimate specimen and are able to determine its sex so you know what you’re getting. Then we’ll move into more specifics about the species such as behavior and care.

Male vs. Female

Identifying male and female snapping turtles is very difficult, for the casual observer and even experts. Unlike a lot of turtle species, both snapping turtle sexes look very similar and have few distinctive identifiers.

Females and males are around the same size and there are few color differences to speak of. The main difference used to tell them apart is the tail, which is longer and thicker in males and is located much further from the plastron (the underside of the turtles) when compared to the tail of females.

Another feature that can be difficult to notice due to its natural position is the size of the plastron, which is a little smaller on males than females, and the areas where the plastron connects to the carapace are a little narrower which are shaped differently to help male turtles position themselves during reproduction.


Identifying snapping turtles isn’t very difficult, because they have many distinctive and immediately recognizable features.

Their carapace is pronounced and large, with many ridges and spines, however, the main feature is their large head and the sharp, pointed, and a rather vicious-looking beak that sits at the tip of their jaws.

They have the look of a relict species from prehistory, and this makes them as impressive and unique as they are ferocious.

As a Pet

As with all turtle species, a properly maintained habitat is very important with these pets, particularly as they will seldom leave it. This is because they are large, and have a challenging and spunky demeanor which makes them hard to handle and care for.

They are very much a look but don’t touch type of pet, and don’t make a suitable choice for anyone wanting to cuddle and handle their pets extensively. Almost all turtles are shy and dislike being handled, and will become nervous and even aggressive if they feel threatened.

The snapping turtle is no different, and it’s much more likely to hurt you thanks to its size and power, coupled with its sharp beak and claws.

They are quite long-lived, however, and certainly, present a uniquely rewarding challenge for dedicated reptile enthusiasts with the experience and patience to care for and accommodate these amazing creatures.


The average lifespan for common snapping turtles is around 40 years. Some are able to live even longer than this if cared for very well, while specimens living in the wild may not be likely to survive this long, it all depends on their environment and a range of other factors such as water quality and predation, among others.


The one deceptive thing about snapping turtles is their neck. Most images and videos of snapping turtles show them with their neck retracted, and this makes it look like they are relatively stout and inflexible creatures.

However this is far from the truth, and their necks can stretch out extremely far and can hyperextend around the top of their shells which makes them very capable and effective hunters and can give a nasty nip to anything that threatens them from very unexpected angles and with striking speed!

Breeding Season

As with most turtle species, the breeding season begins in April and extends through to the fall, however, most nesting will start in May or June so that incubation can take place over the warmest months of the year where temperature management is most important.

Snapping turtles will rarely leave the water, and the breeding is one of the few times they’re likely to be seen out of the water.


The eggs of the snapping turtle are around the size of a ping pong ball and are a creamy white color. Females will lay anything between 20 and 40 eggs and will cover them before returning to the water.

Growth Rate

Hatchlings of course start very small, around an inch or two, but grow quite quickly and be 5 or 6 inches big in 2 years, which is the size of many full-grown turtles in the US. From here, growth continues to 12 or 14 inches. Growth rates slow as the turtle ages, eventually stopping after 15 to 20 years.

Life Cycle

Hatchlings are left to defend themselves once they hatch, and must get to the water quickly as they are often preyed upon by raccoons, foxes, and coyotes as both eggs and new hatchlings.

Once in the water, they will remain here for most of their lives.

Male and female snapping turtles age at different speeds, with males being considered mature at 3 to 5 years of age, while females take a little longer to mature and usually being considered adults at 4 to 6 years of age.

No care is provided to the young.

This species can live anywhere up to 30 or 40 years, and can even surpass this sometimes.


Snappers are listed as ‘least concern’ according to their conservation status and are quite widespread, however, their numbers are decreasing thanks to being hunted as pets and food.


Snappers are omnivorous and feed on various insects, spiders, fish, frogs, snakes, birds, small mammals and carrion alongside various plant matter which accounts for about a third of their diet.


There are few predators for these turtles once they begin maturing. Hatchlings are preyed upon by scavengers and birds, while juveniles are preyed upon by pike and predatory fish, and even alligators.

Once fully mature however there are few creatures that will try to prey on them, however, otters have been known to kill snapping turtles in the wintertime while they’re in hibernation.

Unsurprisingly, the main predator for these creatures are humans, who trap them to sell as pets and also to harvest their meat.

Roaming Range

They populate wide areas of the US, from Florida all the way up the east coast and as far inland as Montana and Idaho and some parts of eastern Texas. Some can also be found in Central America such as Mexico.


As with many other turtles, snappers are prone to various health issues such as vitamin A deficiency, skin, and shell infections, fractures, parasites, and even abscesses, however many of these issues can be avoided with proper care.

If your turtle seems especially lethargic or has diarrhea it may have parasites and worming tablets should be given.

Eye Color

Their eye color can be black, brown, or even a brownish tan color.


Snappers do hibernate in the winter, however, captive species don’t necessarily need to hibernate if conditions are favorable. Some owners induce hibernation by reducing the temperatures of their enclosures, however, it’s not known how beneficial this is to your turtle’s long-term health.

Can they Swim?

They are very effective swimmers and spend most of their time in the water, meaning they’ll need good-sized aquariums or enclosures with access to plenty of water.


These pets should be handled as little as possible to prevent stressing out your pet or you, however sometimes this is an unavoidable reality.

Snappers have a very long and flexible neck and need to be very carefully handled to avoid getting a nasty nip.

Unlike alligator snappers, common snappers must be handled by holding them at the rear of the carapace on both sides near the feet, or by sliding your hand beneath the rear of the turtle’s plastron and lifting accordingly, with your other hand on the rear of the upper carapace.

NEVER pick one up by the tail as this can have an awful effect on the turtle’s spine, and try not to use large spades or scoops as these aren’t secure and will leave you and your turtle vulnerable to injury.


Baby common snappers can be brought for as little as $25 while adults are more expensive, however, the main costs come with setting up and maintaining a suitable enclosure for them.

Fun Facts

Their scientific name is Chelydra Serpentina. Chelydra is Latin for tortoise, while Serpentina is Greek for snake, in reference to their fairly long tails.