How to Pick Up a Snapping Turtle (Safely)?

Snapping turtles are one of the most unique, prehistoric-looking reptiles on the planet. They also happen to be one of the most dangerous turtles if they are threatened by an unsuspecting human hand. 

Not only are snapping turtles heavy, but they have a large and indestructible beak-like mouth that can easily snap (hence the name) through frogs, crayfish, and even a human bone. 

Whether you own a snapping turtle as a pet or if you’re looking to find one in its natural habitat, it is imperative that you learn how to pick up a snapping turtle safely.

Of course, you don’t want your fingers to be bitten off, nor do you want your arm to be broken in the mouth of the turtle, but you also don’t want to hurt the animal. Despite its prehistoric appearance, snapping turtles can feel pain like any other animal.

How to Pick Up a Snapping Turtle Safely?

Here are the steps of how to pick up and hold a snapping turtle safely. We recommend that you do this with another person who can help you. We also recommend only picking up a snapping turtle when necessary – for example, if you’re wanting to trim its nails, give it a health inspection, or if you’re moving it for its own safety. 

Picking Up a Baby Snapping Turtle

Baby snapping turtles are small enough to be held with one hand. While they don’t cause much of a threat to your fingers, that doesn’t mean they won’t try to snap at you! 

To pick up a baby snapping turtle, gently place your thumb at the back of the turtle’s shell with your finger (pointer is best) between the hind legs.

At this point, the turtles are very light and their bodies are still forming, so be as gentle as you can to not distress it. When stressed, reptiles can form a build-up of lactic acid that can be deadly. 

Picking Up a Juvenile Snapping Turtle

Picking up a juvenile snapping turtle is similar to picking up a baby one, but you’ll just need more fingers as they are bigger.

This time, place your pointer finger and your middle finger underneath the back legs (with the tail between your fingers) and your thumb on the shell. Feel free to use more fingers or a second hand – just be sure to stay away from the head!

Picking Up an Adult Snapping Turtle

Here’s where it gets tricky and potentially dangerous. Only complete these steps if you are physically prepared. 

We recommend wearing a thick pair of gloves for extra safety if you are new to picking up one of these turtles. Not only will this work as a protective layer for your hands, but it will offer you more grip and balance. 

Whatever you do – don’t grab the snapping turtle by the tail as this can hurt the animal. Pulling the tail will put pressure on its reproductive organs, which means they can be sterilized by this action. 

The best way to hold a snapping turtle is to reach for the shell by its hind legs. Put your hands either side of the shell just above its back legs, and gently lift it up. When the snapping turtle is fairly small, this won’t cause too much strain on your arms. 

This is where the gloves come in handy, because snapping turtles have large and sharp claws on their feet. These claws are used to move around the floor of their watery habitat, as well as to scavenge for food. 

It is important to hold the turtle close to the ground. This is for safety reasons, because if you cannot hold the turtle properly, then it won’t have far to drop to the floor. 

One of the most common mistakes people make when picking up a snapping turtle is that they mix up the turtle with its counterpart, the alligator snapping turtle.

Unlike alligator snapping turtles – which can be held by the shell behind the neck – snapping turtles have a neck that can reach out. This means that the head can easily trash around, so their mouths can reach your fingers. This is why you should always hold a snapping turtle near its rear end with its head facing away from you. 

Then, move the turtle to a better location by placing it in a container. If the turtle is in the middle of the road and you are wanting to move it to another location, make sure to choose a good spot near water in the direction they are facing. They are likely to be lying in the road to bask in the sun, so try to move it away from the road to prevent a vehicle from running it over. 

If you are unfortunately bitten by a snapping turtle, make sure to stay calm and place the turtle back on the ground gently. You don’t want to drop the turtle, as this can hurt it.

Snapping turtles usually hold on to their bite, so if your arm or hand is still within its grasp, gently put the turtle down and wait until it lets go. If you drop the animal while it is still biting you, not only will it hurt the turtle’s neck, but it will cause greater damage to your hand or arm. 

Finding an Injured Snapping Turtle

If you find an injured snapping turtle, the best thing to do is to take it to a nearby wildlife clinic. You should pick up the snapping turtle in the same way by holding the rear end of its shell with both hands.

Make sure to put it in a container that is large enough, and keep your hands away from its head and front legs at all times. Seal the container and create an adequate hole for them to breathe through. 


Snapping turtles are beautiful creatures that, in most cases, need to be left alone. If you are going to pick up a snapping turtle, make sure you are doing it for the safety of the animal to prevent causing more damage.