Common Snapping Turtle vs. Alligator Snapping Turtle [15 Differences]

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Have you ever mistaken an alligator snapping turtle with a common snapping turtle? Well, when young, both turtles have a similar appearance and habits. But once grown, these turtles show several dissimilarities. Here is a brief comparison between common snapping turtle vs. alligator snapping turtle,

Common snapping turtles are medium-sized, enjoy an average lifespan, and are less aggressive. Also, these turtles are omnivorous and easier to take care of. However, the alligator snapping turtles have bulky bodies and live a long lifespan. Also, this subspecies is not an ideal pet due to its aggressive nature.

Go through the following article to catch more details on the differences between common snapping and alligator snapping turtles.

Common Snapping Turtle vs. Alligator Snapping Turtle: Summary

ParameterCommon Snapping TurtleAlligator Snapping Turtle
Scientific NameChelydra serpentinaMacrochelys temminckii
AppearanceOval headTriangular head
Size & WeightSize: Up to 22 inches Weight: Up to 34 kgsSize: Up to 32 inches Weight: Up to 110 kgs
Native RangeEastern United States to the Rocky Mountains, Southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and Central AmericaGulf of Mexico, Iowa, northern Florida, west Texas, east Gorgeia, etc.
Lifespan50 years70 years
AggressiveMild aggressionSevere aggression
SpeedSlower than alligator snapping turtleFaster than common snapping turtle
Sexual Maturity12 – 15 years15 years
Egg ClutchUp to 100 eggsUp to 50 eggs
CostCheapMore costly
Care LevelIntermediateExpert

Common Snapping Turtle vs. Alligator Snapping Turtle

From an outsider, all snapping is the same. But if you are a turtle hobbyist, you know that snapping turtles have two main subspecies and how versatile they are.

Yes, there are similarities between the two snapping turtle subspecies. For example, both are aggressive and have a beast-like look. But there are several dissimilarities you can not ignore.

Let’s talk about the differences between the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle,

1. Starting With Look

The subspecies don’t need to look alike. Yes, the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle share the same edginess. But still, you can notice many differences in their appearances.

For example, the common snapping turtles have smooth and rounded shells. Their heads are also oval, and their eyes face forward. Moreover, the tails of these turtles are spikey.

On the contrary, the alligator snapping turtles are worthy of their names. They literally look like small alligators.

The alligator snapping turtles have 3 raised spikes that run from the head to the tail. Their heads are also pointy, and their eyes are located at the sides of the angular heads. Small spike-like scales are also there for protection. Again, the skin of these turtles is full of wrinkles and bumps.

Furthermore, a red, flashy tongue is the unique feature of the alligator snapping turtles. These creatures sit at the bottom of the pond with their mouths open. Fishes and other small aquatic species mistake the tongue for a worm and fall into the trap. It is the survival trick of the alligator snapping turtles.

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Finally, the jaws of the snapping turtles are another noticeable characteristic. The alligator snapping turtles have razor-like jaws for hunting. On the other hand, the beaks of the common snapping turtles is not as sharp as the alligator turtles.

2. Shape & Size Matter

You can instantly separate a common snapping turtle from an alligator snapping on its look. Apart from appearance, size is another differentiator among these subspecies. For example, the average size of an alligator snapping turtle is 16 – 26 inches. So, the usual weight of this creature is around 50 – 80 kgs.

Some turtles of the alligator snapping subspecies can even get up to 32 inches and grow about 110 kgs. Can you imagine how bulky they are?

Now coming to the common snapping turtles, their average size is 8 – 14 inches. The highest these turtles can grow is 22 inches. Moreover, the common snapping turtles weigh around 34 kgs max.

So, the common snapping turtles are not as bulky as the alligator snapping turtles. If you compare two turtles of the same age, but of different subspecies, the alligator snapping turtles will always have a larger shape.

Get the full growth chart of snapping turtles by clicking here. Do you know you can calculate the age of a snapping turtle by its weight? Check my previous write-up on snapping turtle’s weight calculation to learn the trick.

3. Who Needs A Bigger House?

If you talk about the basic housing requirements like a water filter, heater, UV light, basking lamp, dock, etc., both the subspecies need those. But when it comes to an enclosure, the alligator snapping turtles need a bigger house.

The alligator snapping turtles can grow up to 32 inches. But, according to the owners, you would require a 700-gallon robust tank to accommodate one of these adult turtles. Hence, it is better to switch to an outdoor pond to raise an adult alligator turtle.

Compared to the alligator snapping turtles, the common snapping turtles are smaller. They reach a length of 22 inches. So, a minimum 120 – 150 gallon tank is required for a young turtle. The enclosure size will increase with the growing size.

4. What About Home?

Common snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles share a similar type of habitat. It includes marshes, bogs, lakes, swamps, rivers, streams, brackish water, creek, impoundments, muddy water with dense vegetation, slow-moving water, etc.

Though the habitat type is the same, these turtles’ native habitat range differs from each other. For example, the common snapping turtles are found in the Eastern United States to the Rocky mountains. Also, this species ranges from Southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and Central America.

Again, the alligator snapping turtles are seen in the Gulf of Mexico. The states where you will find alligator snapping turtles are Iowa, northern Florida, west Texas, east Georgia, etc.

5. One Lives Longer Than The Other

The two snapping turtle subspecies have different lifespans. Reports claim that common snapping turtles live about 50 years in captivity. On the other hand, the alligator snapping turtles have a longevity of 70 years.

It is obvious that the wild snapping turtles do not enjoy a long expectancy. Why? Well, in the wild, turtles have to struggle to get meals. On top of that, there is no medical emergency or treatment. So, check the factors that decide the lifespan of a snapping turtle from this article.

However, there are many cases where the wild snapping turtle has outlived a captive one. For example, in 2014, a team spotted a river alligator turtle aged 80 years.

So, yes. The longevity of the snapping turtles is definitely a differentiating point.

6. Both Have The Same Predators?

Both common snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles indeed have predators. Animals like foxes, dogs, raccoons, bears, alligators, hawks, crows, skunks, etc., are potential predators of snapping turtles. However, these animals mainly attack the turtle hatchlings or eggs,

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Here is one thing.

The alligator snapping turtles have bulky bodies with a fierce look. So, in most cases, these turtles can escape and fight the danger. But sometimes, the weight poses an issue as they can not run fast.

On the other hand, the common snapping turtles have a medium size. As a result, their chances of falling into a trap are higher.

Instead of having a sharp pointy jaw, why do the snapping turtles fear predators? See, not all turtles can retract their whole body inside the shell. Take the snapping turtles as examples.

Snapping turtles can not withdraw their neck inside the shell. So, when they get into the shell, their heads rest at the side. The exposed neck is why these turtles feel so vulnerable to predators.

7. Who Can Defend Best?

People will tell you that snapping turtles are aggressive.

But I beg to differ.

These creatures are, in fact, shy. However, if you initiate an attack on them or make these turtles feel insecure, they will do their best to defend themselves. Now, an aggressive snapping turtle is not something you want to face.

The snapping turtles have pointy and sharp, razor-like jaws. When under attack, these creatures try biting the opponent and kick with their claws. According to several reports, snapping turtles can bite off human fingers.

Though both subspecies have razor-like beaks, they can not generate the same force on biting. Alligator snapping turtles are bulky and have sharper jaws. As a result, the attack of this subspecies is more fierce.

On the other hand, the common snapping turtles are not as big as the alligator snapping turtles. Hence, they can not create massive damage to the attacker. But still, you should not take them lightly. The common snapping turtles bite with enough force to make you bleed and leave a bruise.

8. Let’s Talk About Speed!

Some of you may laugh seeing the heading. But, while a turtle can barely walk, how will I differentiate the alligator snapping turtle and the common snapping turtle on speed?

Well, just so you know, turtles can run. Not only that. Turtles can also jump. To add more surprise, some turtles can even climb the walls or chicken wire fences. So, comparing the alligator and common snapping turtle based on speed is not a bad idea.

The average speed of snapping turtles on land is 2.4 mph. However, when in water, this speed touches 10 – 12 mph.

The alligator snapping turtles have bulky bodies, which hinders their speed. Compared to them, the common snapping turtles are faster.

9. Feeding Habit Is Another Sign

Each subspecies has its own food preferences when it comes to dieting. Usually, the meal chart of a common snapping turtle includes fish, insects, worms, shrimp, crab, plants, vegetables, etc.

The babies and young common snapping turtles are primarily carnivorous. They live on protein sources and enjoy hunting. But as they grow up, their appetite changes, and they become omnivorous.

On the other hand, the alligator snapping turtles nurture intense hunting behavior. It is because they spend their whole life feasting on protein sources like fish, frogs, snakes, small mammals, etc.

Alligator snapping turtles adopt a special technique to prey. These turtles usually sit at the bottom of the pond with their mouths open. Their red tongue seems like a worm, which attracts other aquatic animals. When the fish or prey comes close, these snapping turtles take a chance and pierce their sharp beak through it.

See also  Can You Tame A Snapping Turtle?

Get a diet chart of snapping turtles from this article.

10. Do Snappers Hibernate?

Like most other turtle species, snapping turtles are also cold-blooded. So, when the temperature drops, these turtles need an external source to keep their bodies warm. Otherwise, they hibernate.

Experts discourage breeders and owners from putting their snapping turtles into hibernation. It is because improper brumation can cause serious damage to the turtles. However, follow the procedures properly if you decide to hibernate the pets.

Depending on the weather, snapping turtles hibernate for up to 6 months in a muddy area. But surprisingly, some common snapping turtles do not brumate as they have a high tolerance for cold. Similarly, some alligator snapping turtles  hibernate for a few months or not at all.

11. When Can It Mate?

Alligator and common snapping turtles have different lifespans and grow in various sizes. So, it is obvious that their growth chart can never be the same, and so is their sexual maturity.

According to the experts, the northern or cold region common snapping turtles are ready for reproduction at age 15. However, the southern or warm area turtles gain this sexual maturity at 12. Again, the male turtles reach this maturity sooner than the females.

On the contrary, the alligator snapping turtles start looking for partners at 12 years. Usually, the males initiate sexual intercourse by seducing the females.

12. How Many Eggs In The Clutch?

Soon after a successful mating, the females snapping turtles enter the gravid state. Then, the mother turtles come to the land and start looking for suitable nesting areas. Finally, these creatures spend hours laying their eggs when the deposition time comes.

Though smaller, the common snapping turtles seem to lay more eggs than the alligator snapping turtles. Generally, one clutch of the common snapping turtles contains 80 – 100 ping pong sized eggs. The hatchlings will come out after an incubation period of 90 days.

The clutch of an alligator snapping turtle contains 30 – 50 eggs. Again, the incubation period is also longer for this subspecies, around 120 days.

I have added a complete incubation guide for snapping turtles here.

13. How Is Their Lifestyle?

Snapping turtles are not a big fan of basking. So, they only come to the dock if necessary.

It is true for both the common snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles. So, neither the snapping turtle species are avid baskers and prefer staying in the water.

Snapping turtles can stay underwater for 4 – 7 hours without a break when asleep. However, during the daytime, they have to resurface every hour.

In the daytime, snapping turtles spend their hours hunting. While the alligator snapping turtles aim for fish, frogs, and other medium-sized prey, the common turtles settle for the small ones.

14. Let’s Tank Money!

As you have seen, the female alligator snapping turtles lay up to 50 eggs per clutch. The number hits 100 for a common snapping turtle. So, as per the demand and supply rule, the alligator snapping turtle is always pricey.

According to today’s market, the price range of an alligator snapping turtle is between $30 – $6000. On the other hand, the common snapping turtles are not that expensive. You will get a baby at $30 – $40, and the cost of an adult can be up to $5000.

But why is the price difference so huge? Actually, several factors decide the cost of a turtle. For example, size, age, exclusiveness, etc. You can have an insight into the snapping turtle pricing from this article.

15. Which One Is Better As Pets?

If you go through each factor, the alligator snapping turtle does not suit every owner. It is because raising this subspecies requires special care and attention. For example, you can not handle the alligator snapping turtle like any other species. Instead, you have to follow some rules to avoid any biting.

Raising a common snapping turtle is easier than the alligator snapping turtle. Yet, you must have some experience beforehand to handle turtles. Otherwise, you will fail to raise this subspecies too.


Common snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles are close relatives. However, while they share many similarities, they also have some differences. For example, the alligator snapping turtles look like giants compared to the common snapping turtles. Besides, they demand different meals and habitat arrangements. So, when buying a snapping turtle, check the subspecies first.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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