If you’re looking for a more exotic creature to fill up your lovely aquarium, why not get a baby snapping turtle?
To get you started, let’s take a look at what baby snapping turtles are like, how to care for them throughout their long lifespan, and answer the question, “What do baby snapping turtles eat?” By the end, you’ll be ready to introduce this fun new pet into your aquarium.
What is a Baby Snapping Turtle?
Among the different subspecies, the most notable are the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle. But don’t be fooled by these how cute these reptiles are. As their name implies, common snapping turtles will often snap or strike at perceived threats.
The scientific name of the common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina, even denotes their aggressive, snake-like nature. These turtles can turn their heads nearly all the way around just to bite their owners with their beak-like jaws.
Luckily, most snapping turtles only become aggressive outside of the water. If you encounter them in the water, they are far shyer and will often flee or hide in sediment to avoid you.
Though snapping turtles are seen as snappish and aggressive, they can also be quite tame if they’re carefully handled by humans from a young age. This is why caring for baby snapping turtles will be easier in the long run, in contrast to buying them fully grown. A baby turtle that grows up alongside you and your family will come to think of you as a friend, rather than as a threat.
Even still, they may snap at you from time to time, so always handle these creatures with the utmost care! You should never, ever pick up a turtle by its tail, as you can seriously hurt them and even damage their spine. Instead, you should lift your turtle up by its shell (as close to its hind legs as possible) in case it rears back and tries to bite.
Both the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle are members of the family Chelydridae, and can be found all throughout North America and Mexico.
Common snapping turtles generally prefer freshwater habitats, such as lakes, ponds, swamps, and slow-moving streams or rivers. Adult snapping turtles can also be found wandering around brackish or salt-marsh areas.
They will often travel surprisingly long distances over land, to find either food or a suitable place to lay their eggs. Female common snapping turtles will even risk crossing roads during the nesting season (usually between May and June) to complete their journeys. During this time, they may occasionally bury themselves and lie dormant to rest or hide from predators.
Alligator snapping turtles, on the other hand, are far more selective about their habitats. They can mostly be found in the southeastern parts of the U.S. and, even then, only in rivers and streams that drain into the Gulf of Mexico.
Size and Growth
Adult common snapping turtles can weigh up to 40 pounds, while adult alligator snapping turtles will often weigh between 70 to 200 pounds. The record for the heaviest male turtle of this breed exceeds 300 pounds! Males are often larger than their female counterparts, but they are indistinguishable from one another otherwise.
When properly cared for, this species can live for upwards of 25 to 40 years.
Snapping turtles, unfortunately, have a high mortality rate for both their embryos and hatchlings. This is in addition to their delayed sexual maturity, and their reproductive events have extremely low success rates. It does not help that females in more northern areas mature at around 15 to 20 years, meaning that they do not mate until they have already lived out half, if not most, of their lifespan.
They do produce more offspring than turtles who live in southern areas, however. Snapping turtles in those regions tend to mature faster, at around 12 years compared to northern snapping turtles’ 15 to 20 years.
Although baby snapping turtles are exotic pets, you will not find a shortage of them on the market. When shopping for snapping turtles of any kind, your best avenue is a trustworthy online store.
- Pet outlet stores like PetSmart and Petco will have turtles and tortoises for you to adopt, but they do not carry any baby common snapping turtles, nor any baby alligator snapping turtles.
- The website My Turtle Store is currently selling baby common snapping turtles that are under four inches in length for around $26.95. They guarantee delivery within one to two business days. You can even purchase a few extra benefits, such as hydration packs, premium hatchling food, and heat packs for your turtle, so they can be comfortable during transport to your home.
- Underground Reptiles sells two-inch baby snapping turtles for $9.99 each. They offer next-day shipping on weekdays, coupon codes for turtle food upon purchase, and even educational videos about turtle care, so you know what to expect when the little pet arrives at your doorstep!
Baby Snapping Turtle Care
Snapping turtles tend to grow rather quickly (up to 18 inches in length) and become quite large, so knowing how to properly care for them is crucial. They will become miserable or destructive if you leave them in the wrong tank environment.
How to Set Up a Snapping Turtle Tank
The water in a snapping turtle’s aquarium should be non-chlorinated – just as it would be in a regular fish tank. The water should also be relatively shallow – up to the length of your baby turtle’s shell. Despite living near water, snapping turtles are actually poor swimmers and can drown if their tank water is too deep.
The bigger your turtle grows, the filthier their tank will become, so it’s best to install a good filter while you can, or you might find yourself changing their water frequently as they age.
Heat and Lighting
If possible, set up your baby turtle’s aquarium in an area that receives direct sunlight. If that’s not feasible, then it’s best to place a heat lamp over the shallowest area of their tank. This is especially important when they are young, as turtles cannot generate their own body heat.
You can also install a submersible heater in their tank instead. Generally, it is best to purchase a 55-watt water heater for a 40-gallon tank, and a 75-watt heater for a 55-gallon tank. When installing this heater, be sure you drill holes in a piece of PVC pipe and set it over the heater; this will prevent your turtles from becoming burned, as they may try to cozy up near the warmth.
Another option is to purchase fluorescent bulbs that contain type-B ultraviolet light. Most pet stores carry these specialized bulbs, so you will have no trouble finding them.
You should keep one thermometer as far from the heat source as you can, and another right next to it. This will allow you to measure the aquarium’s temperature at all times. Snapping turtles prefer a warmer environment of around 82.5 degrees Fahrenheit (or 28.1 degrees Celsius).
When you first introduce your baby snapping turtle to their new tank, you need to make sure they have plenty of areas to hide.
Plants can serve as both protection and nice decorations for your tank. Keep in mind that your turtle may eat any live plants you keep, so it’s best to use fake plants. They will generally dislike the artificial taste and leave the plants alone. However, if you’re concerned about them eating the plastic or silk, try alternate items like small clay pots or driftwood instead.
You should also line the bottom of the tank with aquarium sand or smooth river rocks. Your baby snapping turtle will need an island or some kind of warm, flat stone for them to bask on.
Whatever substrate you choose to add, be sure you keep a close eye on the bottom half of their shell. Depending on your turtle’s sensitivity, the surrounding substrate can irritate their shells, making them turn orange or cause tiny pinholes to poke through the otherwise hard surface.
If you notice this happening, take out the sand, gravel, or stones from your tank and talk to a pet store expert about what should replace it. You should also talk to your veterinarian about how to heal this irritation, so your turtle can return to full health.
To prevent the issue altogether, make sure you clean your turtle’s shell once or twice a month with a soft toothbrush. You should also gently brush lukewarm water on every part of their upper and lower shell.
How Big a Tank Do They Need?
Baby snapping turtles will thrive in a 10-gallon fish tank for now. However, as they grow larger in size, you’ll need to upgrade their tank. Typically, snapping turtles thrive in 40- to 55-gallon set-ups.
What Do Snapping Turtles Eat?
Snapping turtles are omnivorous creatures that will eat just about anything. It’s best to serve your baby snapping turtle a balanced diet of both plants and meat to help them grow up healthy. You should also feed them turtle pellets – though keep in mind that fresh food is the best for growing turtles.
They are not particular to one kind of meat, and will settle for earthworms, crickets, pollywogs, newts, snails, small fish like minnows, tadpoles, frogs, crayfish, freshwater mussels, snakes, and even a small mammal like a baby mouse.
Baby snapping turtles seem to enjoy mealworms, guppies, and ghost shrimp the most, all of which you can find in your local pet store. You can purchase a variety of both live and frozen insects for them to chew on as well.
Snapping turtles will thrive on a steady diet of turtle food, minnows, worms, and other insects. If you feel like approaching their diet more uniquely (or like feeding your pets scraps), then human food is also an option. Bread, bologna, and unseasoned chicken, beef, turkey, and fish are all great treats now and then.
With that said, your turtle’s diet should not consist of meat alone. Remember that at least half of their diet should include fresh, leafy greens like lettuce. You can also place live vegetation like Elodea (or water weeds) into their tank as well. Just be prepared to replace these plants after your turtle has consumed them.
Baby alligator snapping turtles have long, worm-like tongues that they use to lure in live prey. These turtles are often vulnerable to predators in the wild due to their poor swimming abilities, so this technique is crucial for their survival. In fact, you will often find both captive hatchling and juvenile alligator snapping turtles doing this to capture any live prey you feed them.
Adult snapping turtles will also be satisfied feeding on dead fish and dead small mammal carcasses. Surprisingly, turtles can also be found eating acorns and other nuts as well.
Whatever balance of foods you choose for your turtle, be sure to not over-feed them. Typical signs of an overfed turtle include tight skin and bulging legs.
If, on the other hand, their skin looks loose or sags, then you are probably under-feeding your turtle. Adjust their meal schedules accordingly.
Baby Snapping Turtle Tank Mates
Common snapping turtles are often found alone in the wild, due to their aggression towards other species and even other turtles. In fact, when two common snapping turtles fight, usually only one will come out alive (though definitely not unscathed). It is best to keep your snapping turtles in their own individual tanks to prevent this from happening.
They will spend most of their time in the water, as this is where they feel most comfortable. They will swim around their tank just as often as relaxing on their islands. This is why you should not add any fish to the tank, regardless of how small or fast these fish can swim.
Baby snapping turtles can be quite the handful for a novice aquarist. Nonetheless, they make interesting, exotic pets that are fascinating to watch. If you add one to your tank, be sure to handle them with care and choose their set-up cautiously.
Have you considered keeping a snapping turtle?