Baby Snapping Turtle: Complete Guide to Care, Breeding, Tank Size and Disease

Baby Snapping Turtle Overview

The Snapping Turtle refers to a family of large freshwater turtles named for their method of biting. They are native to and found throughout North America, from Canada to the west coast of northern South America. Their natural range extends from Southern Alberta to Nova Scotia and the Rockies, extending south all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and parts of Florida. They have also made their home in small pockets in Mexico, Central America, and Ecuador.

Snapping Turtles are known for their huge size and aggressiveness, especially when out of the water. They have strong beak-like jaws and spry neck. This is why the most widespread species, the Common Snapping Turtle, has the scientific name Chelydra serpentina, where serpentina means “snake-like”. The Snapping Turtles are characterized by high mortality during their younger years, experience delayed sexual maturity, and live to a very long age once they’ve matured into adults. In this article, we will learn about Baby Snapping Turtles and the definitive guide to caring for them.

Information Chart Baby Snapping Turtle
Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
Family: Chelydridae
Care Level: Difficult
Temperament: Aggressive
Color: Dark brown, tan, or black
Lifespan: 30-40 years
Size: 6-10 cm for hatchling20-50 cm for an adult 
Diet: Omnivorous
Minimum Tank Size: 10-15 gallons for hatchling, 150 gallons for adult
Temperature: 78-80 °F (25-27 °C)
Water Conditions: pH 6.8-7.2 with medium hardness
Tank Mate Compatibility Should be kept alone 
Baby Snapping Turtle

Baby Snapping Turtle Appearance

A Baby Common Snapping Turtle usually has a plain or dark brown upper shell, called the carapace, with mixed brown or olive stains. The shell has three long ridges running lengthwise which wear down with time. Their belly shell, called the plastron, is very narrow and cross-shaped and leaves their extremities exposed. While their head is dark in color, Snapping Turtle Babies have yellowish necks, legs, and tails. The jagged tail is nearly as long as the shell. They have characteristic tubercles on their necks and webbed feet, sharp claws, and a powerful, bony beak. Snapping Turtle hatchlings are about 2.5-4 inches and weigh just a few ounces, but can grow up to 20 inches and 35 pounds as adults. Female Snapping Turtles are generally smaller than males.

Types of Baby Snapping Turtles

Chelydra serpentina

They are also called the Common Snapping Turtles and are the most common species. They are widespread in North America. They are one of the heaviest native freshwater turtles in the northern part of their range.

Chelydra serpentina

Chelydra rossignonii

They are also known as the Central American Snapping Turtles, the Mexican or the Yucatan Snapping Turtles. They are endemic to Central America and Mexico. Previously considered a subspecies of Chelydra serpentina, it became a full species after some genetic differences and differences in the morphology of the skulls were noticed. Yucatan Snapping Turtles have a big head and a lengthy tail, with a brown or olive coarse carapace and a creamy plastron.

Chelydra acutirostris

They are known commonly as the South American Snapping Turtles. They are endemic to Central and northwestern South America. They were also previously considered a subspecies of Chelydra serpentina. South American Snapping Turtles are generally smaller in size than the common Snapping Turtles, and are found in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador.

Lifespan of Baby Snapping Turtles

The typical lifespan of a Baby Snapping Turtle is 30 to 40 years in captivity.
This depends upon the quality of care, but Snapping Turtles have been known to live up to 50 years in captivity, while in the wild their estimated maximum age is over 100 years.

Baby Snapping Turtle Size

The typical Snapping Turtle Baby will generally grow up to 8 to 20 inches.
Snapping Turtle Babies are about 2.5 to 4 inches long, and measure 6 inches by the time they are 5 years old. By the age of 12-15 years, Snapping Turtles reach their maximum size between 8 to 20 inches. However, they continue growing slowly throughout their life. The average length of an adult Snapping Turtle is 15 inches.

Natural Habitat and Origin

The Common Snapping Turtles, along with the other two species of Chelydra, are restricted to the Americas. They are native to the North American continent and are generally found in southeastern Canada, along with parts of the Rocky Mountains, Nova Scotia, and Florida. Common Snapping Turtles can also be found in Mexico, Central America, and a small region of South America.

The natural habitats of Common Snapping Turtles are shallow freshwater ponds, marshes, or streams. They prefer to live in swampy areas or rivers with silted beds. Common Snapping Turtles spend most of their time in the water and prefer to burrow under a muddy cover with only their eyes and nostrils exposed for breathing. They like turbid water bodies and sluggish currents, with plenty of vegetation and rocks among which they can hide. These conditions might be replicated for Baby Snapping Turtles in artificial tanks.

Baby Snapping Turtle Care & Tank Set-Up

Baby Snapping Turtle Tank Size and Specifications

Optimum Tank Size for Baby Snapping Turtles

Baby Snapping Turtle Tank Size and Specifications

The recommended tank size for a Baby Snapping Turtle is about 3 square feet or 10 to 20 gallons.

However, Baby Snapping Turtles will soon outgrow this, and an adult Snapping Turtle needs a tank approximately 60 square feet or 150 gallons in size. The water needs to be deep enough so they can swim, but shallow enough so they can sit on the bottom and stretch their necks for breathing. A good approximation is making the water slightly deeper than the turtle’s width.

Tank Type for Baby Snapping Turtles

Plastic fish ponds, pond liners, and large tubs may be used to house the Baby Snapping Turtle. Glass terrariums and even small children’s pools are good enclosures. A pre-formed pond can also be considered, keeping in mind their growing potential. The top of the tank should be secured using a durable wire top to prevent the Baby Snapping Turtle from escaping. A dock should also be added to the tank to allow the turtle to bask while partially submerged in water.

Filter Type

Filtration is crucial for the health of Baby Snapping Turtles. As the Snapping Turtles eat a lot of food, the tank water can get stale really quickly with leftover food particles and waste. Thus a strong filtration system with biological, mechanical, and chemical filtration is required, especially as the Snapping Turtle grows older. In addition to this, regular water changes every 2-4 weeks are also important.

Substrate

While the Snapping Turtles can live without substrate, they are generally less stressed and more relaxed when the tank conditions mimic their natural habitat. Thus, a combination of plants and driftwood acts as an appropriate substrate for their needs. However the Snapping Turtle may eat the live plants, and so an alternative substrate can be rocks and clay pots. This is to provide the Snapping Turtle Baby with plenty of ideal hiding spots. Rocks should be big enough to not be swallowed accidentally and can be glued together with a non-toxic aquarium sealant as well for added protection.

How many Baby Snapping Turtles should be kept in 150 gallons?

The rule to follow is ten gallons of water for every one inch of the turtle shell. A minimum of 10 to 20 gallons is required for a Snapping Turtle hatchling, while this may go up to 150 to 200 gallons as the turtle grows in size. Further, the Snapping Turtles can be quite aggressive to each other, and so it is recommended to only store a turtle alone in a tank.

Water Parameters for Baby Snapping Turtles

Water Temperature

The ideal water temperature for Baby Snapping Turtles is 78 to 80 °F or 25 to 27 °C.
While Common Snapping Turtles can withstand colder temperatures in the winters, this is the optimum temperature range that should be maintained for hatchlings. For adults, the optimum range for healthy development is 75 to 78 °F or 23 to 26 °C. The temperature for the basking dock should not exceed 90 to 95 °F or 32 to 35 °C. These temperatures can be obtained using underwater heaters in the tank. The temperature can be monitored using thermometers or a digital thermostat to prevent it from going out of range. Also, the ambient air temperature above the tank should be 80 to 86 °F or 26 to 30 °C. This can be possible via a ceramic heater or a thermostat. These temperatures help the Baby Common Snapping Turtles stay healthy and prevent stress.

pH Level

The perfect water pH level for Baby Snapping Turtles is pH 6.8-7.2.

This prevents the water from becoming too acidic or too basic for the Baby Snapping Turtles. If you want, a small amount of aquarium salt can be added to make the water a little brackish.

Water Hardness

The water should also not be overly hard or soft. Thus a moderate amount of hardness should be maintained. It is also important to use treated, chlorine-free water to keep the Baby Snapping Turtles healthy.

Baby Snapping Turtle Tank Landscape

Baby Snapping Turtles can grow to huge sizes and their tank should be set up to accommodate that. Their natural habitat should ideally be recreated in their tank. It should have an appropriate amount of clutter for the Baby Snapping Turtles to feel safe when trying to hide. Since Baby Snapping Turtles like to bask, a dedicated basking dock with proper lighting conditions is also required. As Snapping Turtles don’t like to leave the water, a sloping dock that allows them to remain partially submerged is ideal.

Best and Worst Plants for Baby Snapping Turtle Tanks

Snapping Turtles require a lot of free space to swim around. In addition to that, they are more than likely to eat live plants placed in the tank. For this reason, plants may be generally skipped if you’re planning to look after some Baby Snapping Turtles. However, sometimes plants may also provide hiding spots for the turtles in captivity. So if desired, it’s best to keep the number of plants to a minimum. For this purpose, plants like Anacharis, Hornworts, or Java Ferns may be used.

Decorations for Baby Snapping Turtle Tanks

Since live aquatic plants may pose a feeding problem for the Baby Snapping Turtles, you can instead opt for decorative plants. Decoration should be chosen based on whether it provides ample hiding space to the Baby Snapping Turtles without hampering their movement, as the turtles can be destructive to elaborate decorations. To this end, items like clay pots, submergible storage boxes, and driftwood can be utilized.

Lighting for Baby Snapping Turtle Tanks

Ground Rocks for Baby Snapping Turtle

Specific lighting arrangements are needed to help the Snapping Turtles bask easily and to prevent diseases. A high-quality infrared basking light should be placed over the entire tank for this purpose. But Baby Snapping Turtles also require full-spectrum UVB lighting over their basking spot to maintain their shells, as it helps them absorb calcium better. The UVB light can also help mimic natural 12-hour cycles in captivity and stimulate Vitamin D production in the Baby Snapping Turtles. It is good practice to place the UVB lamp within twelve inches of the Baby Snapping Turtle’s shell while it basks. The UVB lamp picked for this purpose should clearly mention 10% UVB to keep the radiation within safety limits, and it should be replaced every 6-12 months to maintain optimum light output.

Feeding Baby Snapping Turtles

Best Diet for Baby Snapping Turtles

In the wild, Snapping Turtles are omnivorous and will feed on almost anything they can catch in their beaks. Thus their diet should consist of both animal and plant matter, and they can be fed live as well as artificial foods for the same. To maintain water quality and prevent overeating, a good practice is to give the Snapping Turtles only enough food which they can finish in 10 to 15 minutes.

Snapping Turtle Hatchlings require a protein-rich diet. This can contain redworms and bloodworms, small unfrozen fish pieces, small fishes, shrimps, and other meaty products. All food should be cut into small pieces. Snapping Turtle Hatchlings can also be given sliced fruits as an occasional snack. An Adult Common Snapping Turtle’s diet should be similar to Baby Snapping Turtles but should contain one-quarter of plant matter as well. This can come from duckweeds, water hyacinths and water lettuce, and premade leafy foods. Common Snapping Turtles can also feed on any healthy and fresh plants growing inside their tank, and can occasionally be treated to pears, apples, carrots, grapes, and strawberries or blackberries.

In terms of artificial foods, Snapping Turtles can be fed commercial turtle pellets which are rich in nutrients otherwise not obtained through natural food. Alternatively, their food can be dusted with multivitamin and calcium supplements. Snapping Turtles can also be fed turtle-appropriate granules and flakes for a quick snack. Pre-killed rodents are also good for Snapping Turtles because of their highly calcified bones, and their fur can help with the passage of other food through the turtle’s system as well.

How often should you feed Baby Snapping Turtles?

Snapping Turtle Babies under 6 months old should be fed twice daily.

While Snapping Turtle Babies will eat significantly less than adult Snapping Turtles, the feeding frequency for them is higher. After that, until they are 2 years old, they should be fed once a day. Once Baby Snapping Turtles cross 2 years of age, they should only be fed twice or thrice a week. Generally, if Baby Snapping Turtles start bulging out of their shell their diet should be restricted, and if their skin begins to sag their diet should be improved.

Baby Snapping Turtle Behavior and Temperament

Are Baby Snapping Turtles lone or societal in nature?

In the wild, Common Snapping Turtles are solitary in nature. Social interaction among the species is rare and usually only includes in-fighting between males. For this reason, cohabitation should be prevented. Baby Common Snapping Turtles are generally calm and docile inside water and like to burrow or hide in a predatory manner. However, they are extremely aggressive when removed from the water and should be handled with great care, since they are likely to hiss and snap at anything they perceive as a threat.

Aggressive Baby Snapping Turtle

Baby Snapping Turtle Tank Mates

Ideal and Bad Baby Snapping Turtle Tank Mates

Since Snapping Turtles are at the top of the food chain in their natural environment, almost everything is prey for them. This includes fishes, reptiles, and even other turtles! This is why it is recommended to keep Baby Snapping Turtles in a solitary environment. But in case you really do have to give them tank mates, slow and sluggish fishes should be out of consideration. This includes goldfish, sunfish, or koi fish. Similarly, bottom feeders should also be skipped as they might cross paths with the Baby Snapping Turtle. This includes plecos, catfish, and even shrimps, crayfish, and freshwater aquarium snails. Thus, if you do end up making the Baby Snapping Turtles share space, choose small and fast freshwater fishes, like guppies or neon tetras, or zebrafish. However, it should be kept in mind that sooner or later they might all suffer the same fate at the hands of the turtle.

Breeding Baby Snapping Turtles

The sexual maturity of Baby Common Snapping Turtles is directly related to their size. They are ready to mate when their upper shells are approximately 6 inches long. Male Snapping Turtles reach this size at around 5 years of age, while females reach reproductive maturity between 4 to 7 years. Their mating season lasts from April to November, but they are more active during the warmer months, typically between April and May. During courtship, the male and the female Snapping Turtles face each other and move their front legs and heads from side to side. The mating process begins when the male Snapping Turtle mounts the female Snapping Turtle and adjusts his tail, to bring the cloacal openings into contact. The mating process might be a little aggressive, with both the male and the female biting each other during it, but these are temporary scars that heal quickly.

The female Snapping Turtle will usually lay her eggs in early summer, between late May and June. However, depending on when they mate this can extend into autumn. The number of eggs a female Snapping Turtle will lay in a batch depends upon her size. On average, a clutch contains about 20 to 40 soft-shelled, cream-colored eggs the size of table tennis balls. Some nests have been known to contain about 100 eggs at the same time.

The female Snapping Turtle will generally lay her eggs by digging a 4 to 7-inch deep nest in loose soil, sand, loam, piles of sawdust, rotten vegetation debris, or a similar substrate for incubation and protection. The incubation period can be anywhere between 8 to 18 weeks, and averages around 93 days before a hatchling emerges from the egg, usually between August and October. However, sometimes the Snapping Turtle hatchling can overwinter in the nest and enter its first hibernation, not emerging until the next spring, depending on the climate of the location.

The Snapping Turtle Hatchlings are only around an inch long when they emerge from the eggs. The sex determination of the hatchlings is temperature-dependent. Eggs maintained at a cooler temperature (around 75 to 78 °F to or 24 to 26 °C) predominantly hatch male Baby Snapping Turtles, while at higher temperatures (more than 84 °F or 29 °C) the offspring is generally female.

Baby Snapping Turtle Breeding Level – Intermediate

Baby Snapping Turtle Sexual Dimorphism

Male and female Baby Snapping Turtles are most accurately distinguished by the difference in their pre-cloacal tail length; the distance from the posterior end of the plastron to the cloaca is greater in males than it is in females.

There are plenty of visual differences between male and female Baby Snapping Turtles, which makes them sexually dimorphic.

Adult male Snapping Turtles typically have thicker, longer tails and their vents are further down the tail. On the other hand, female Snapping Turtles tend to have shorter tails and their vents are closer to their body. Also, the plastron in males is smaller and the bridges connecting the plastron and carapace are narrower, which helps them hold on to the females during copulation. Female Snapping Turtles also tend to be smaller, but this is not always reliable.

Baby Snapping Turtle Common Diseases and their Treatment

Shell Rot

Parts of the bone of the shell of Baby Snappers may deteriorate, often leaving the underlying scutes intact. This is due to the poor quality of water or chemical imbalances in it. The Snapping Turtle should be removed from the tank and the damaged soft part of the shell should be removed before the surrounding area is cleaned and dried. The Snapper should be soaked for about an hour in a sulfa bath and dried before being returned to the water. This should be repeated daily for a week. In acute cases, topical antibiotics such as silver sulfadiazine cream can be applied daily to the shells as well. Shell rot can be prevented by cleaning the tank water regularly and maintaining the pH of the water.

Fungus Infection

Fungus Infection in Turtle

White blotches on the Snapping Turtle Baby’s skin may appear, signifying fungal infection caused either due to dirty water or insufficient basking. The treatment is exactly similar to that for shell rot. Sometimes the scars may remain even after the skin has regenerated. Infection can be prevented by using a proper filtration system and removing waste regularly.

Hypovitaminosis

Hypovitaminosis refers to a lack of vitamins. Vitamin D3 deficiency can cause a deformed, hunched-back shell in Snappers. It is usually due to a lack of proper exposure to sunlight or substituted artificial lighting. Vitamin A deficiency symptoms include swollen eyes, a runny nose, a raspy breathing voice, and abnormal peeling of the skin. Vitamin B12 deficiency is characterized by paralysis or numbness of the turtle’s legs. Hypovitaminosis can be treated by improving diet and giving commercial vitamin and mineral supplements to the turtle regularly. Vitamin D deficiency can also be treated by exposing turtles to direct sunlight for at least an hour daily, or alternatively by providing full-spectrum UVB basking light.

Parasites

External parasites like ticks are easy to spot as they are attached to the Baby Snapping Turtle’s skin. Internal parasites are harder to detect; however, they are mostly harmless, unless the Snapping Turtle Hatchling is passing visible parasites. Both these conditions are likely due to dirty water in the tank and irregular cleaning. External parasites should be treated with methylated alcohol and softly removed once their grip loosens. In the case of internal parasites, the Snapping Turtle should be soaked in water containing piperazine daily for a few weeks. Commercial dewormers for turtles may also be used. To prevent parasites, the water should be cleaned and filtered regularly, and the enclosure should be covered with a wire mesh.

Proteus infection

If the Baby Common Snapping Turtle has trouble sinking in water, floats at an odd angle, or has swollen feet, it might be suffering from a Proteus infection. This is a serious condition and can be fatal if left untreated. The turtle should be taken to a doctor and provided professional treatment immediately.

Facts about Baby Snapping Turtles

  • Common Snapping Turtles have an average bite force of 200 Newtons, but have been known to exert much higher forces in the wild – up to 600 Newtons!
  • The Common Snapping Turtle was chosen as New York’s official State Reptile in 2006
  • Unlike other turtles, Common Snapping Turtles cannot retract their whole body into their shell and must rely on their powerful beaks to protect themselves
  • Snappers are usually quiet and docile during the day since they are nocturnal hunters by nature
  • When they feel stressed, Baby Snapping Turtles can release a musky odor from behind their legs
  • Common Snapping Turtles are remarkably tolerant to cold weather, and some can even remain active under the ice
  • Common Snapping Turtles are currently classified under ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN

Are Baby Snapping Turtles Right for You?

Caring for Baby Common Snapping Turtles is moderately difficult due to their large size, mostly aquatic nature, and aggressive behavior. Due to their strong, powerful beaks and long, agile necks, they require specialized handling out of water. Also, since they prey on almost everything, they aren’t suitable for you if you plan to keep a lot of other fishes and aquatic animals in the same aquarium. However, Baby Snapping Turtles are also extremely interesting and entertaining, and due to their long lifespans of 30 to 40 years, can prove to be great companions if given due attention and proper facilities. They aren’t picky eaters and can thrive under a good filtration system and regular cleaning and check-ups. Thus if you have ample space to house them and can commit to them long-time, Snapping Turtle Babies are sure to be one of the most fun pets to have!

Baby Snapping Turtle

FAQ

Do Baby Snapping Turtles need a heat lamp?

Fluorescent bulbs are needed for your Snapping Turtle Hatchlings if their tank is not in a location that receives direct sunlight. Bulbs that contain UVB are the best substitutes and allow the Snappers to bask. A heating lamp can also be used to maintain the tank’s temperature according to the turtle’s age – around 80 °F or 27 °C – if you live in a cold region.

Can Snapping Turtles drown?

As aquatic as Snappers appear, they cannot breathe underwater. Common Snapping Turtles can tire out and drown if they are forced to repeatedly swim to the surface to breathe. Thus, the water depth in a tank should allow the Snapping Turtle to sit on the bottom and reach its head to the surface to breathe comfortably. If you believe your Snapping Turtle has drowned, do not turn it upside down, and take it to a reptile vet as quickly as possible.

Do Snapping Turtles eat other turtles?

Snapping Turtles will eat nearly anything that they can catch, and then some. Snapping Turtles have been known to kill other turtles, sometimes even of their own species, by biting off their heads. This behavior is usually territorial since Common Snapping Turtles are solitary and do not like company.

Do Baby Snapping Turtles bite?

Baby Snapping Turtles are aggressive by nature and can bite sharply. The common species’ average bite force is 209 Newtons. As adults, their powerful jaws can even remove a finger or two, although recorded cases of this happening are very rare. However, Snappers should always be handled with care and should be picked only by grabbing the carapace above the hind legs to prevent injury to both yourself as well as the turtle.

Conclusion

Baby Common Snapping Turtles are very interesting to learn about and can prove to be great life-long pets when handled with care. As long as you can keep up with their growing size and give them a proper enclosure, food, and regular medical attention, you can definitely form a positive relationship with Baby Snapping Turtles and have a lot of fun.

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