Alligator Snapping Turtle Care Guide

Alligator snapping turtles are one of the most incredible reptiles on the planet. They are the largest freshwater turtle in their native North America, and one of the heaviest species of turtle in the world.

Depending on each state’s laws, they can technically be owned as a pet. However, a great deal of experience and professionalism is required to take care of these awesome monsters.

We have made the perfect care guide for owning an alligator snapping turtle, ranging from information on their natural habitat and lifestyle to the type of diet and cleaning maintenance they require. 

Alligator Snapping Turtle Facts

Despite its name, the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is not related to alligators. They get their name from their awesome shell design, which features pointed ridges that are similar to the ridges on an alligator.

These turtles also have an incredibly powerful jaw, much like their namesake alligators. 

Visually, these guys are intense. They basically look like modern dinosaurs. Weighing up to around 175 lbs (sometimes even heavier) and sizing between 16 to 32 inches in length, these turtles are extremely hardcore.

Their eyes reside on the very sides of their head, making their vision ideal for examining prey from every angle. 

They have a lifespan of between 80 and 100 years, though it is believed that they can reach up to 200 years old in their wild and natural habitat. In captivity, they usually live somewhere between 30 and 70 years old.

If you are considering buying one of these turtles, be aware that they are probably going to outlive you. 

Physical Description

As mentioned before, these turtles are usually characterized by their shell and impressive head size. Their shell features three distinct dorsal ridges, pointing upwards in the same way an alligator’s ridges do, and is usually a dark gray, black, or green color.

Over time, and especially in the wild, this shell becomes covered by algae, making it an ideal camouflage. 

The head of an alligator snapping turtle is most intimidating. These heads are large, heavy, and feature a strong mouth that has a pointed beak. This is where the “snapping” name comes from, because their mouths are their main point of attack. 

Alligator snapping turtles are ambush predators, meaning that they wait for their prey to come to them with extreme strategy. These turtles lie on the floor of their habitat with their mouths gaping open, and can stay underwater for up to an hour before going to the surface for air.

Whilst it may seem like prey would notice a giant pointed mouth, these turtles have a distinct lure on their tongue that replicates a worm. This lure encourages prey to investigate and, before they know it, they have unknowingly become food for a stealthy alligator snapping turtle.

This adaptation is known as Peckhamian mimicry. 

How to Determine the Sex 

In regards to differentiating the sex of an alligator snapping turtle, this is usually determined by examining the thickness of the tail and the position of the cloaca from the shell.

The shell, otherwise known as the carapace, is longer for female turtles than male turtles. The tail of a male turtle is thicker to protect their reproductive organs, and their cloaca generally goes beyond the shell.

Females have a slimmer tail with their cloaca situated closer to the edge of the shell. Female turtles are also lighter than males, as they can reach a maximum of 50 lbs next to their male counterparts that can reach 220 lbs. 

Other than these physical differences, their behaviours are generally hard to differentiate sometimes, as neither males nor females are particularly maternal/paternal to their offspring after hatching. Alligator snapping turtles are incredibly independent and don’t tend to form emotional bonds with other snapping turtles. 

Alligator Snapping Turtles vs Common Snapping Turtles

Whilst both forms of snapping turtles are native to North America, there are some key differences between them. As there are many different species of snapping turtles, we will just focus on the common snapping turtles. 

The main difference between both turtle species is their physical appearances. A common snapping turtle is generally smaller than an alligator snapping turtle, and does not have the distinct ridges on their shell.

Their shells are more smooth and look more like a turtle, as opposed to the alligator snapping turtles which look more like dinosaurs. 

A common snapping turtle has a much longer neck than the alligator snapping turtle, which they use to stretch out at lightning speeds. This is because they are nomad predators, meaning they will actively search for their prey.

The alligator snapping turtle is an ambush predator, as described before, which means they do not need an extendable neck (though this doesn’t stop them from lurching out if they are agitated). 

At the end of these necks are different mouth sizes. Due to the size differences between both turtles, the alligator snapping turtle has a larger and more powerful jaw.

They also have a larger pointed beak, which can effortlessly pierce through skin and muscle. The main difference is the wormlike appendage that alligator snapping turtles use to lure their prey, whereas the common snapping turtles have a smooth tongue. 

In general, alligator snapping turtles are actually much less aggressive than common snapping turtles. This may be due to lack of scientific knowledge. Alligator snapping turtles are only made to be aggressive or agitated when they are held by their shell or attacked by another predator. 

Unlike other turtle species, both species of snapping turtles cannot tuck their ligaments or other external bodily features inside their shells. Their shells become one with their body, which is why they can create an array of health issues, which shall be discussed later. 

Alligator Snapping Turtle Behaviour

Due to their methods of catching prey, alligator snapping turtles are much calmer than their common snapping turtles counterparts.

This is because they wait for their prey to come to them, rather than the other way around. This means that handling them is generally safe - as long as you do it right (we talk about how to handle a snapping turtle properly and safely later on in this article). 

These turtles are almost completely aquatic, as they can be submerged in water for between 40-50 minutes without taking a breath. When they do come up for air, they simply bob their heads out of the water to take a breath, and submerge once again.

This means that they are less comfortable out of water, which is why they are less dangerous when being handled properly. They’re mostly nocturnal, and prefer deep water that they can walk along unknowingly.

As they are reptiles, they need to regulate their temperature appropriately, so they are known for basking up the rays at the water’s edge on a warm day - though this is very rare. 

Endangerment

Alligator snapping turtles, like any other predator, are an essential part of their own ecosystem. Every animal in the world works to maintain the vital biodiversities that keep our planet alive and healthy.

These snappers help to maintain population sizes of their own prey, and they also act as natural gardeners as they eat aquatic plants. 

Though alligator snapping turtles are at the top of the food chain in their own animal world, their main threat unfortunately comes from humans.

Due to constant deforestation and the destruction of habitats, the home of the alligator snapping turtle (a vital biodiversity) is slowly becoming inhabitable - contributing to an ever decreasing population. They are, therefore, considered a threatened species, and are endangered in several states such as Missouri and Indiana. 

As a result of this habitat destruction, alligator snapping turtles are restricted to the south east of North America. Common snapping turtles, however, are native to central North America, the east of North America, and parts of Mexico. 

Alligator snapping turtles are also hunted for their meat, shells, and are taken for the exotic pet trade. As a result of this, some states have banned collecting these rare turtles from the wild.

This is also because taking a female snapper away from her habitat will decrease the chance of reproduction in the wild, which doesn’t help the already decreasing numbers. 

Snappers are, unfortunately, often considered dangerous animals that need to be euthanized upon discovery or entrapment. However, snappers are generally not dangerous to humans, as these turtles only pose a threat to a human if the human deliberately or accidentally puts their hand by their mouths.

Otherwise, they tend to avoid humans as they are only interested in prey that is a smaller and more edible size. If they can’t eat or bite you, they won’t bother unless you are really close to them. 

The only threat for young turtles include birds and raccoons that can eat the small turtles. 

How strong are alligator snapping turtles?

Alligator snapping turtles do not have teeth, but this is made up for in pure jaw strength. These jaws are said to effortlessly break through a broom handle, or even a bone.

Their beak-like mouth is the closest thing they have to teeth, as these sharp points can pierce through skin and muscle. 

They also have incredibly heavy duty shells and claws that can move them through the depths of water effortlessly, despite their body weight. 

Diet

Alligator snapping turtles are omnivorous, and almost completely carnivorous. Due to the way they catch their prey, they will basically eat anything that wanders nearby.

These turtles mostly eat fish that unknowingly swim to their clever wormlike lure, but they are also known to eat amphibians, snakes, crayfish, worms, plants, water birds, and other turtles.

Even despite their namesake, they can also eat baby alligators. Though they do eat other small turtles, studies show that parts of the broken shell may still linger in the stomachs. 

Animals wandering by the water’s edge are not safe from the snap of the turtle, as these turtles can also eat possums, raccoons, and armadillos. They are described as opportunistic predators, meaning that they will eat anything that is an appropriate size for them. 

Like other reptiles, they cannot digest food when the temperature is too hot or too cold. 

In captivity, alligator snapping turtles are usually fed beef, pork, or birds such as chicken. 

How they catch their prey

As mentioned before, these turtles are ambush predators. Their wormlike lure on their tongue is an ideal weapon for catching prey, as an unsuspecting animal may wander slightly too close.

These turtles are masters of disguise, particularly in murky water and as they age with algae growing on their shells. This camouflage makes them look essentially like a rock that is home to a worm.

This tends to happen in the day, and at night they are more active hunters. This is due to the lack of light source that makes hunting in disguise even easier, and the drop in temperature is more comfortable for them. 

Alligator snapping turtles can taste the water to find their prey. They basically swallow and taste the water for any lingering chemicals that may indicate that a food source is nearby. This is called gular pumping.

This is a chemosensory system that is ideal for murkier waters, or for locating prey that is hidden amongst the mud. 

Reproduction

Mating season tends to vary for alligator snapping turtles in the wild, but it usually occurs throughout the period of spring.

These turtles don’t really form bonds with other turtles, whether that is a lover or their own offspring, so they are known for mating with multiple turtles throughout their lifetime. Mating maturity begins between the ages of 11 and 13. 

The mating process itself is very territorial and possessive. After finding a suitable female, a male turtle will launch itself onto her back as a sign of approval. As they do their business, the male turtle will grasp onto the female’s shell with their strong claws to prevent falling off. 

Similar to other turtles and reptiles, the female will then dig a nest - a hole in the sand near the water’s edge. After around 2 months, the female will lay between 10-50 eggs in what is called a clutch.

The incubation period then usually lasts between 100 and 150 days, and then the hatchlings begin to appear in early fall. 

The sex of the baby turtles is dependant on temperature, which is also known as “temperature dependant sex determination”. This is used by all turtle species. For this species in particular, it is said that warmer temperatures determine more males. 

The baby alligator snapping turtles are a shrunken replica of their fully grown parents. At this age, they feast on smaller prey such as guppies, tadpoles, and snails. 

How to Buy an Alligator Snapping Turtle 

Due to their complex nature, specific requirements, and levels of danger, it is not recommended to own an alligator snapping turtle unless you are an experienced reptile and turtle handler and owner. 

As a result of their endangerment classification, there is an ethical and moral debate surrounding how to purchase one of these modern dinosaurs without contributing to a damaging exotic animal trade.

Some turtles may need rehoming from past owners, especially due to their age as they tend to outlive humans. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to tell if they have been handled appropriately in their previous home - whether this is from a dealer or not. 

You will need to be aware of your state’s laws on owning an alligator snapping turtle. Some states, such as California, have strict bans on this. Other countries including Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Bavaria also have strong laws against keeping invasive species. 

The best way to purchase an alligator snapping turtle is through someone you know, a rescue, or a legitimate breeder or dealer. This means you can examine the turtle before buying it, and you can ask all of the questions in the world.

However, the exotic animal trade often only comes down to money, so you cannot trust that the turtle has not been handled properly - even by a legitimate dealer.

After all, they most likely do not know the history of the turtle as they handle and sell so many. Some owners and breeders may have documents and records, but this cannot be said for rescues either. 

If you do not want to contribute to the exotic animal trade, rescuing a turtle is the best option - though this does require the highest experience. Remember, these are a wild and threatened species that do not act as pets in the same way smaller turtles do, so they cannot simply be bought because they look cool.

Always avoid street vendors who sell animals. 

What to Look Out for When Buying a Snapper 

The exotic animal trade is a fickle and complicated world. It is therefore vital to understand what to look out for when buying an alligator snapping turtle. Always go to see the turtle in person, potentially even more than once. 

The first big indicator of how a turtle has been kept is their environment. This can show you how the turtle is currently being handled, and how to handle them yourself from this. You cannot change an environment or habitat too quickly for these turtles, they will need time to adjust to their new surroundings. 

Dirty water could indicate lack of cleaning, which would normally be fine in a natural environment that regulates itself with other biodiversities, but this is not the case for captive turtles.

An unclean environment could lead to health issues that would need to be sorted once you take over the turtle. Also, be aware of how overcrowded the turtle is.

Alligator snapping turtles are very independent and generally prefer to live alone, so if they are being sold with other species and reptiles this will increase the chance of disease transmission. Also, with the nature of a snapping turtle, pairing them with anything they could potentially eat is a big no-no. 

It is recommended to not buy a hatchling. Whilst this may seem like a good option to grow alongside the turtle (and they are adorable), snappers smaller than 4 inches long legally cannot be sold.

However, if you are looking to purchase a hatchling for educational or scientific purposes, this is a loophole - though don’t do this if you are looking for a pet turtle. It is also recommended to avoid buying a hatchling as they have had less time to mature prior to being sold, and are therefore less hardy. 

The most important thing to remember is that alligator snapping turtles do not make good pets. They cannot be handled in the same way as smaller turtles, and they can cause a lot of damage.

True, they only pose a threat when a threat is close to them (please don’t put your hand anywhere near their face), but they cannot be kept simply because they look cool.

If you are an experienced turtle owner and handler looking to rehome an alligator snapping turtle for their benefit, then that is fine and actually beneficial for maintaining the population of the species. If you are looking for a cool turtle pet, your priorities may be better suited for other turtle species. 

Physical Examination of the Snappers 

So you have examined the environment of the snapper that is being sold, and you know exactly what you need to do to care for the animal. The next step is to examine the turtle properly to see how healthy it is. 

When you are holding one of these turtles, make sure you are handling it correctly to prevent yourself from damaging the turtle or yourself.

The most comfortable way for these turtles to be held is by the shell, with one hand behind the head and the other by the tail, with the head facing away from the holder. Alligator snapping turtles are mostly aquatic, so they do not feel comfortable out of water, which is why this is the best time to hold them. 

Generally speaking, they are rather calm natured when being held - until you put something near its gaping mouth, that is. However, a healthy turtle should not be still.

They aren’t designed for human contact and holding, after all, so they will make movements. If they are inactive, this could be a sign of something wrong with the turtle.

Likewise, if the turtle is not as heavy as their size suggests, this could indicate a sickness that the dealer or owner may not know about, or may not be telling you about. 

The more obvious signs of illness or problems include open wounds and shell discoloration. Open wounds, especially ones from overgrown claws (which we will discuss later), can cause infection and extreme discomfort for the turtle. Likewise, any discoloration or soft areas of the bottom and top shell could be a sign of a rotting shell.  

If you are experienced enough to heal any of these problems, or if you are willing to take professional advice, then you can buy these turtles. However, vet bills can be incredibly expensive for exotic breeds, and if you are in a state where owning one of these turtles is illegal, you may be putting the animal in more harm and distress by purchasing it and not giving it the correct care. 

So...can I take one from the wild?

Due to the population size and endangerment classification, it is not recommended to take an alligator snapping turtle - whether an adult or hatchling - from their natural habitat. Some states have banned this, because taking away a female that can lay eggs will further decrease the population. 

It is always worth contacting your local wildlife agency to see whether it is legal to take a turtle from the wild. Some states have limits to how many turtles can be trapped, and others have no limits on how many can be bred at home or in captivity.

Of course, it may often be safer to rescue a snapper from the wild to prevent them from witnessing habitat destruction or hunting from humans. 

How to Legally Own a Snapper

As briefly mentioned before, laws on owning alligator snapping turtles vary depending on each state. Many states work to protect alligator snapping turtles by imposed bans on buying, selling, and owning the turtles without a permit.

Some states allow breeding from owners, as this helps to maintain the population of the species outside of the wild (as long as they aren’t being sold purely for money and bad intentions). Some states are super strict and don’t allow the ownership of any animal taken from the wild. 

America has banned the selling of snappers smaller than 4 inches, though there are exceptions for educational and environmental purposes.

However, the laws around exotic animals are constantly changing, so it is important to get a permit to prove to your wildlife authority that you have not stolen the turtle from the wild. 

Taking Your Snapper Home 

So, you have researched your state’s laws on owning an alligator snapping turtle, you have researched your dealer/breeder/previous owner, you have examined the turtle, and you know exactly the type of environment and handling the turtle will need (which we shall explain later). The next step is transporting the snapper from its current home to your home. 

Whilst they are pretty much entirely aquatic, you cannot transport a snapper in a container filled with water. These turtles can only stay submerged for 40-50 minutes, and if your car journey is longer than that, then they could easily drown. You can’t exactly park on the side of the road and open the container to let them have a breath of fresh air.

For smaller snappers, it is best to keep them in a small box or container with dampened paper towels or newspaper. This slight wetness is more comfortable for them than a dry surface. Larger turtles will obviously need a bigger box and more padding, as they could easily bruise the more tender part of their shell or their skin. 

This box or container must be secured properly, because the last thing you want is a distressed snapper ripping apart the box in the back of your car. They will also need air holes for breathing. You will also have to be mindful of the temperature, as they will prefer the warmth. This can be achieved by extra padding and insulation. 

Habitat for Snappers in the Wild vs at Home

Alligator snapping turtles are native to the southeastern area of America, and live in freshwater environments. They are found in rivers, lakes, canals, and other areas of freshwater.

Due to the nature of their hunting strategy, they thrive in murky water that they can camouflage themselves in. When they are hunting during the day, they sit on the bed of the water under logs and foliage to lure their prey. 

At pets, it’s not as simple as simply making a container for them to swim around in. Snappers grow between 1-2 inches each year, so they will need habitat changes frequently in their lifetime - if you buy them young. It is recommended that once the snapper is a foot long, they should be relocated from the breeder’s tank to a pond or livestock trough.

A pond is most similar to their natural habitat, of course, but a manmade pond will not have the same benefits as a natural pond.

Snappers are notoriously messy eaters and produce waste, but this works in a natural environment where the leftover food can be a source of nutrition for the water, ground, and other animals. In a manmade pond, you will have to clean the water for them. 

Of course, you cannot replicate their natural habitat exactly, which is why it is important to stay on top of their environmental needs.

This includes clean water to maintain their health, areas for them to hide and take cover in the water, a heat source, and a healthy diet. Logs and aquatic plants are ideal for making them feel more at home. 

In terms of size, obviously alligator snapping turtles aren’t the most mobile of turtles, but it is important to not restrict their habitat. Remember that these turtles will grow to a potentially enormous size, so a larger pond is more beneficial.

The minimum size tank or pond for an adult snapper is 16 square feet and a 700-800 gallon capacity. You want the water to be deep enough to cover their entire shell, but shallow enough that they can lift themselves out of the water for air. 

Whilst they may look hardcore, you cannot simply leave them in a tank made of metal and call it home. Their new habitat must be lined appropriately with a pond liner to stop any chemicals or dangerous metals from infecting the water.

Plastic tanks will not require this lining. Cement is much more durable and flexible than a pool liner, and whilst it is more expensive and will require the help from a professional, this will be more beneficial in the long term. 

Hiding Places and Plants

When a snapper is young, breeders and dealers recommend no substrate in their tanks to keep their water clean for longer. Once they are a foot long, or are fully grown, they will prefer an environment that is most like their natural habitat.

Large rocks are great for keeping pool liners stable whilst also replicating their natural habitat, as well as logs as driftwood - even if they are artificial. We recommend real driftwood and logs to help with the maintenance of their claws, which we will talk about later. 

Large and round rocks are the best, because it will allow the snapper to dig itself a new hiding spot. Avoid rocks with sharp edges that may damage the shell, and use a nontoxic epoxy to keep the biggest rocks from falling on the turtle. Whilst this could all happen in the wild, they are now in a situation where this can be avoided to maintain good health. 

Snappers are mostly aquatic, so they don’t necessarily need space outside of the water to rest and take in the sun rays. However, they may want to do this to maintain their body temperature. They will also need a shallow area of water to push their heads out and take in some air, so you can have varying levels of height in the pond. 

In terms of plants, your snapper is most likely to eat them. It’s unavoidable. We recommend placing an assortment of native vegetation and marginal plants such as reeds in the centre and the edge of the pond. Yes, the snapper will probably eat them, but this will help to prevent overgrowing plants and is good for their diet. 

Your pond will undoubtedly get messy from plants and driftwood, as the bottom will collect leaves and debris, but this helps to acidify the water and encourages more hiding places for the snapper. It will also prevent algae growth on their shells, and creates a more natural environment for them. 

Temperature

Alligator snapping turtles are reptiles, so they will need a regulated temperature. Even if the top of the water feels warm, the bottom will naturally be cooler - which is where they spend the majority of their time.

The minimum temperature for the bottom of the pond should be no less than 75 degrees fahrenheit. If your turtle is inside your house (which is only recommended when they are young), a low-hanging heat lamp is good. A greenhouse may even be a good place to maintain the warmth of the pool. 

A warm temperature is vital for a snapper, mostly because they will refuse to eat if the temperature falls under 65 degrees fahrenheit. The sun is the best source of heat, as this will give the turtle vitamin D3 to promote a stronger shell and bones.

A greenhouse is also beneficial for the safety of the pond. It acts as an enclosure to keep out predators such as raccoons or dogs. Whilst these animals will most likely become prey for adult alligator snapping turtles, they are more of a threat for juvenile snappers due to their smaller size. 

Shade is as important as light and heat sources for snappers. Aquatic foliage and plants around the rocks and edge of the pond will be beneficial for their hiding spots, and will provide an area to cool down to help them naturally regulate their temperature. 

Filtration and Oxygen

A manmade pond cannot replicate the essential biodiversity of natural freshwater, so you will need to circulate the water. This can be achieved by waterfalls and external filters to keep the water moving and well-oxygenated, which will naturally work to process the turtle’s waste. 

You don’t necessarily need a filtration system, as sometimes these can get clogged with debris and will need regular maintenance, as all you need to focus on is a draining system. Submersible pumps are good for this. 

Fortunately, freshwater environments are generally self-serving, but you need to be aware of unwanted debris and any unsafe areas that could be a health issue for the turtle.

It is recommended to change the water every week to month, depending on the state of the water. Water testing kits are great for measuring the nutrient levels in the water. 

Changing the water for a snapper is basically like changing the water in a fish tank. You will need to remove the turtle safely and place them in a container filled with some water for the time being.

Then, clear out the water, scrub the walls, and replace the water. Mechanical or siphon pumps are best for larger ponds. 

Diet

This is one of the most important factors to consider when homing an alligator snapping turtle. These turtles are opportunistic feeders who will eat anything from reeds to snakes to small mammals. Their diet will, therefore, need to be the same when they are kept as a pet or in captivity. 

In terms of how much and how often you should feed your snapper, it’s all a matter of when they need feeding. Any uneaten food will simply make the pond dirty.

The size of food should be similar to the size of their head. It’s all in trial and error depending on the turtle, just make sure not to overfeed them. You will understand their feeding habits within time. 

It’s all about variety. They don’t necessarily need to tick off their five-a-day, but as they will eat virtually anything in the wild this will need to be replicated in captivity. Raw meat such as beef or chicken or turkey is a great source of protein.

Fruits and vegetables are healthy and nutritious. They will even eat small fish such as guppies or minnows - if you can keep these in the pond to encourage their hunting, this would be incredibly beneficial. 

It’s all about natural food. Avoid processed foods that humans would eat - don’t give them a leftover burger or hot dog from your barbecue. Also avoid fish such as goldfish, as this can increase toxins. 

Safety

An alligator snapping turtle will generally not bite someone unless they are provoked. The best way to hold adult snappers is on either side of the shell, with one hand behind the head and the other by the tail. You can rest the snapper on your knee for extra support. Younger snappers can be held either side of the shell. 

These turtles aren’t always aggressive by nature, but this won’t stop them from launching their neck and head out to take a bite of whatever could be in their way. They will most likely struggle and move around when they are held, but they will eventually calm down as they have less defences when out of the water. Be prepared for it to be agitated regardless. 

Never grab a turtle by the tail, as this may cause spine injury. 

Health Issues 

Salmonella

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 - though this is somewhat insignificant to the risk of their hands being in the snapper’s mouth. 

Shell Rot 

Shell infections can be caused by a deep scratch in the turtle’s shell, that encourages fungal and bacterial organisms to form what is known as shell rot.

Sharp rocks can often cause this, so you will need to make a safe environment and learn to understand what looks normal and abnormal on the turtle’s shell. Lack of proper temperature regulation and water cleaning can also increase the risk of this disease. 

Shell rot is often indicated by a soft spot or discoloration on the shell, and must be treated immediately as the infection can spread around the body quickly.

If this is the case, take the turtle to a vet immediately. They will most likely recommend a daily antiseptic cream or regular scrubbing of the shell. 

Shell Cracks 

If untreated, shell rot can cause parts of the shell to break off, creating a foul odor.

Sometimes a shell could simply crack in places, which will need to be cleaned appropriately and with veterinarian help. 

Algae

In the wild, it is normal for algae to grow on a turtle’s shell. However, this is usually maintained and cleaned by the natural environment of debris and plants and rocks that will naturally scrub it off.

In captivity, algae buildup is more common and can unfortunately cover injuries or infections, or even create infections. Most keepers prevent this by regular scrubbing, with warm water and a soft brush. 

Swollen Eyes 

Swollen eyes may be a sign of a respiratory infection which is treated by antibiotics.

This may also be a sign of a lack of vitamin A in the turtle’s diet, resulting in a condition called hypovitaminosis A, though this is rare and can be treated by a more sufficient diet. 

Abscesses

Any infections that are left untreated may result in abscesses, which are filled with caseous - a semisolid discharged by the turtle.

This will require veterinary care urgently. 

Nail Care 

Alligator snapping turtles have large nails that they use to move around and dig into new hiding spots. In the wild, the length of these nails are maintained by their natural environment. Coarse materials such as rocks help to prevent the nails from curling. 

In captivity, however, they do not have these natural materials to maintain their nails. They will need clipping twice or three times a year to prevent the nails from curling into the palm, which can often embed and create wounds and infections in the skin. In the case of this, a vet will be needed. 

Clipping a snapper’s nails will take a minimum of three people. One to hold the turtle safely, one to clip the nails, and one to keep the head away from the clipping.

The best way to do this is by creating a solid plastic shield and leaning it against the turtle’s head to prevent the turtle from attempting to bite the clipper. Plastic is best for this as it won’t harm the turtle, and it will keep everyone’s hands safely away from their mouths. 

Breeding

If you are considering breeding your snapper, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Alligator snapping turtles are a threatened species that need to be bred to increase the population, but not for the intentions of money making in the exotic pet trade. 

You will need a healthy male and female, whether they are both owned by you or you are essentially “hiring” one to mate with the other is your choice.

They need to be mature, which is usually between 11 and 16 years old. Due to the changing temperatures in the outdoors world, they will need to acclimate to one another for at least 2 months.

They will usually mate between February and October, and after 2 months the female will produce a clutch of between 10-50 eggs. These eggs will need to be appropriately incubated in captivity, as in the wild this usually happens around 50 feet away from the water and in a hole in the sand or dirt.

The eggs need to be incubated on top of a moistened vermiculite between 77 and 86 degrees fahrenheit. If you want to control the sex of the eggs, you can adjust the temperatures as explained earlier in this article. 

Once You Cannot Take Care of the Snapper 

Due to how old an alligator snapping turtle can get in both the wild and in captivity, it is common for these turtles to outlive their owners. This is emphasized by the fact that owners need to be incredibly experienced, which usually comes with age, so they will need to prepare for the turtle’s next owners or next home. 

There are several options for when you can no longer take care of your snapper. Before we mention these options, do not release them back into the wild. This can be illegal in many places, and can disrupt that particular pond or lake’s natural ecosystem. 

The best thing to do is to find your snapper a new and suitable home. They will be fully grown at this point, and you will know exactly what they require.

This way you can meet potential new owners in person and examine their habitats, and they can examine the turtle to see if they can be suitable owners. Your breeder or dealer may even take the turtle back, so check with them too. 

Local wildlife centres or herpetological societies are a good point of contact throughout your ownership of the turtle, as well as for rehoming it. They may take the turtle in and rehome it for educational purposes. If they cannot take the turtle, they may know of a suitable home. 

You will also need to be aware of potential family members or friends who may be able to take over the caring of your turtle. This will be worth discussing before you even purchase the snapper, because their lifespan will need to be considered for their next keepers. They will need to be incredibly experienced and up for the job, because taking care of a snapper is not easy. 

Conclusion

Alligator snapping turtles are incredibly unique and special reptiles that are essential for maintaining the ecosystems in their natural habitat. Keeping them as pets or in captivity is beneficial for maintaining and increasing the population and health of these reptiles.

However, it is only recommended to own a snapper if you are very experienced and if you have the time and energy to commit to these fascinating creatures.

You will need to be financially secure to create a suitable and durable environment, feed them with the right diet, maintain the right levels of hygiene and temperature, and be ready for any vet bills. You will also need to be aware of their lifespan, and to prepare for the next keepers. 

Dorothy Razo
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