How To Take Care Of A Baby Snapping Turtle?

How To Take Care Of A Baby Snapping Turtle

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

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When I say taking care of a baby snapping turtle is not hard, I mean it. But yes, raising the hatchling can be tricky and often a test of your patience. What if I solve all the issues that make taking care of a baby snapping turtle challenging?

When anyone asks how to take care of a baby snapping turtle, I suggest they follow the 4 easy rules:

  1. Accommodate the hatchling in a 10-gallon tank
  2. Install proper lights, tank heater, and water filtration system
  3. Feed the baby mostly animal matter with a small portion of plants
  4. Do regular medical checkups

If you can fulfill these requirements, your baby snapping turtle will live the happiest life. Continue reading the article to catch all the details on the hatchling care sheet.

How To Take Care Of A Baby Snapping Turtle?

A well-arranged enclosure, balanced diet, and regular health check-up will surely help your baby snapping turtle grow. But anyone can ensure these requirements. Right?  What makes your care special?

In my years of turtle-keeping journey, I have learned one thing for sure. To ensure a homely environment, you need to know the ins and outs of the species. It goes the same for the baby snapping turtle.

So, before discussing how to build the perfect habitat or prepare a diet chart, let’s sort out the essential information regarding the snapping turtle species.

Snapping Turtle: Species Summary

Snapping Turtle Species Summary

You admit it or not, snapping turtles look a bit scary. Once I heard an experienced turtle keeper sarcastically saying that raising snapping turtles offers the closest experience of petting an alligator.

I know the look of this pet can make you nervous at first. But trust me, owning a baby snapping turtle is always exciting.

These exotic turtles have shells that range from brown to black color. The most noticeable feature of a snapping turtle is its sharp, bony beak-like mouth. Instead of having no teeth, snapping turtles can bite ferociously.

You will be shocked to know that a snapping turtle can bite a human finger off the hand. Don’t you believe me? Read this article to catch the defensive side of a snapping turtle.

Generally, baby snapping turtles can not bite as hard as adult ones. Even the name of this species has come from the sudden snapping behavior of these turtles.

Now, moving to the origins, the snapping turtles are native to Southeastern Canada, Eastern and Central USA. These turtles prefer living in freshwater but can well-adapt to a hardy life.

Snapping turtles usually have an average life of 30 years. However, these turtles can live up to 50 years or more in captivity when receiving proper care.


Baby Snapping Turtle Care Sheet

Care sheet of a baby snapping turtle includes the enclosure arrangement, environment maintenance, preparing diet chart, and health consciousness. No matter what, these 4 factors should always be your top priority when it comes to raising a baby snapping turtle.

In this section, I will break down every part that contributes to the healthy growth of a baby snapping turtle.


An adult snapping turtle can get 12 to 18 inches big. Sometimes the carapace size reaches 20 inches or more. However, the snapping turtle hatchlings are born tiny and cute, not more than 2 inches.

Just because the babies are small, it does not mean you will not focus on the enclosure. A 10-gallon tank provides the best space for accommodating a baby snapping turtle for about a year.

Generally, the snapping turtle grows fast in the first year and reaches the carapace size of 4 to 5 inches. Due to the size, the baby can adjust well in the 10-gallon tank.

However, the snapping turtle will gain a carapace length of 7 to 8 inches at the age of 2. On that point, a 10-gallon aquarium will not be enough for the pet. You would need to transfer the juvenile snapping turtle in a tank of a minimum capacity of 55-gallon.

As the snapping turtle hatchlings are tiny, owners often go with a 3-gallon container or a hamster carrier. The idea will definitely work for several months. But as the turtle will grow, you would need a larger space for it.

Now it is your decision whether you want to do a long-term or short time investment in the turtle enclosure.

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Lighting And Heating Source

You can not deny the significance of light and heating sources in the life of a baby snapping turtle. Generally, two types of lights are required for the healthy growth of the baby. Such as,

  1. UV light
  2. Heating lamp

UV Light

If you want your baby snapping turtle to have a strong shell and bone, ensure a UV source in the enclosure. The UV includes UVA and UVB rays. Both exposures play crucial roles in the baby turtle’s health.

Take UVB as an example. The exposures produce vitamin D3 in the turtle’s body and aid in calcium intake. Not only that, the rays boost the digestion of the pet and develop a shield against diseases. As a result, the baby grows up having a solid body and immunity system.

On the other hand, UVA rays are the reason why your baby snapping turtle stays in a chill mood. The exposures boost the appetite of the pet and keep it motivated and active.

What will happen without the UV exposures? Several reports claim that baby turtles require UV rays the most. Without a UV source, the babies die within a year or suffer from metabolic bone diseases.

You know, the sun is the natural source of UV. So, if the enclosure of the baby snapping turtle gets direct sunlight, you do not have to arrange for an artificial UV light. Otherwise, buy a high-quality UV light from any pet store.

UV lights with 2.5, 3, and 5 UVB are recommended for baby snapping turtles. Set up the bulb near the basking spot. According to the rule of thumb, the light should be in a 12 inches range from the basking turtle.

Another thing, you do not need to keep the light on 24/7. 10 to 12 hours a day serves well.

Heating Lamp

If we are installing a UV bulb, why do we need the heating lamp? It is because both the lights offer different services.

Snapping turtles are cold-blooded and need environmental heat to warm up their bodies. The baby snapping turtle is in more need of heat than an adult one.

You know the baby snapping turtle swims most of its time. When the pet comes to the land area, it expects heat to soak the wet body. In the wild, the sun does the job of a heating source. But in captivity, you must set up a heating lamp.

If the turtle runs around in the wet body, it will invite a bacterial and fungal attack. Not only that, the baby may suffer from a respiratory infection and cold diseases without the lack of a heating light.

Install the bulb in such a manner that it only covers half of the enclosure. This way, the baby can choose its favorite temperature zone.

The enclosure temperature for the baby snapping turtle should range from 80 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, maintain a temperature around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the basking zone.

Generally, keeping the heating light on for 10 to 12 hours works fine. But on cold days, the hatchlings need heat to survive the night.

Owners often find it troublesome to set up two lights in the small enclosure. In that case, install a Mercury vapor bulb or such lamp that offers both heat and UV rays.

Give this article a go to get the best baby snapping turtle basking light guide for absolute beginners.

Water Filtration System And Heater

Snapping turtles can withstand harsh environments. But that does not mean you will let them live in a filthy enclosure.

As being an aquatic species, baby snapping turtles spend more time swimming. The hatchlings even prefer to eat in the water and also poop there. Thus, the water gets dirty with food scraps and feces.

Let me tell you one thing. Filthy water makes the hatchlings vulnerable. Why? It is because the dirtier the water, the more the risk of bacterial or fungal attack. As the babies do not have strong immunity, they will fall victim to the diseases easily.

What can you do in such conditions? Installing a water filter will definitely keep the water clean and hygienic. Not only that, but the device also maintains the perfect pH level and eliminates harmful elements like ammonia and chlorine.

However, setting up a water filter is not the end of your job. You need to replace 15 to 20% of filthy water with fresh water every once a week. Also, you have to do a thorough clean-up of the entire terrarium once a month.

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Now let’s move to the heating facility. If you are in a cold region, you might need to set up a tank heater to keep the water warm. On hot summer days, the heating lamp will fulfill the same purpose, and so, you will not need any additional sources.

Basking Dock

Baby snapping turtles barely come to bask in the land area. They stay underwater most of the time. So, do you need to provide the babies with a basking dock?

Basking under the UV and heating light helps the snapping turtle hatchlings develop immunity and solid body structure. So, even though the turtles barely come to the basking station, you still need to place one in the enclosure.

You can buy a commercial basking dock online or at any local pet store. The station should cover ¼ of the whole tank and make sure it comes with a ramp. You can also use log, foam, plastic, or metal plates as a DIY basking spot.

Substrate And Decoration

Baby snapping turtles prefer bare bottom under the water. So, do not layer up the tank with any substrate. If you want to enrich the aesthetic value of the terrarium, go with large gravel.

Snapping turtles are curious by nature. So, they tend to bite the substrate and digest it. In most cases, substrates are not edible and cause complexities in the turtles. For these reasons, experts discourage putting the substrate in a baby snapping turtle’s tank.

You can add natural or artificial plants to replicate the wild environment inside the enclosure. As I said, putting substrate in the baby snapping turtle habitat is not a good idea, so choose any plant that grows without soil. Here is a guide that will help you understand aqua-scaping.

Other than the plants, baby snapping turtles need hiding spots and rocks in their home. Hiding places help the pets relax while panicked and defend themselves from any attack.

Baby Snapping Turtle Diet

Baby snapping turtles grow the most in their first year. But without a balanced diet, their body will not grow as expected. Hence, research first while preparing a meal chart for the hatchlings.

The babies are primarily carnivores due to their preferences for animal matters. Yet, a little vegetation is required to balance the meal.

Here is a list food list for the baby snapping turtles,

  • Pellets
  • Insects
  • Small rodent
  • Small fish
  • Tadpoles
  • Earthworms
  • Mealworms
  • Crickets
  • Shredded chicken
  • Chopped beef
  • Minnows
  • Snails
  • Waterweed
  • Green vegetables
  • Lettuce

Many local stores sell live insects for the turtles. You can either buy the live worms or go for the dried packaged foods.

Feeding live foods excite the babies and raise their wild instincts. If you notice your baby snapping turtle refusing to eat, providing live foods or exploring new meals will bring back its appetite.

Besides the natural or package foods, you need to offer the baby snapping turtles dietary supplements like calcium and vitamin D3. These supplements make sure that the babies do not lack vitamins or minerals.

How Often And How Much To Feed The Baby Snapping Turtle?

See, neither overfeeding nor underfeeding does good to a baby snapping turtle. I have seen owners getting confused about how much and how often to feed the hatchlings. So, I am about to clear your doubts and give clear instructions on a baby snapping turtle feeding schedule.

You need to feed the baby twice a day, every day for the first 6 months. After that, meals every other day are enough to satisfy the hunger of the pet.

Follow the head methods or 15-minutes rule to decide the food quantity. As per the 15-minute rule, you need to place enough food in the enclosure and leave for 15 minutes. After the period, remove the leftovers.

The head method involves your imagination and assumption ability. You need to provide the baby with enough food that will fit in its empty head. I recommend the 15-minute rule. It is because, with the head method, there is a risk of overfeeding and underfeeding.

Baby snapping turtles prefer eating early in the morning and early evening. If you have a busy schedule to cope with, install a turtle feeder in the tank.

Baby Snapping Turtle Health Care

Baby snapping turtles are more exposed to diseases because they are weak and underdeveloped. Hence you have to be extra careful about their health.

A snapping turtle can fall sick to several diseases. The most common ones are,

  • Vitamin A Deficiency: It occurs due to the lack of vitamin A. The baby loses appetite, becomes less active, and suffers from infections because of the condition. Vitamin A shots, antibiotics, and a balanced diet can help the turtle recover from the disease.
  • Respiratory Illness: Untreated vitamin deficiency might lead to respiratory infection. Generally, bacterial attack on the lung is responsible for this disease. Respiratory infection symptoms are sneezing, wheezing, coughing, runny nose, breathing issues, etc. Recovery from this condition is not that easy, and in the worst cases, the baby can die. Immediate medical attention is required if you notice your baby turtle showing any of the signs mentioned above.
  • Shell Rot: Shell rotting in baby snapping turtles can start from a single scratch on the scutes. Bacteria and fungi make their way into the shell through any crack or scratch. The wounded spot will smell bad and discharge fluid. Home treatment like applying healing creams to the wound or soaking the scutes with an antibacterial solution can heal such conditions.
  • Shell Shedding: Overfeeding the baby snapping turtles is a curse. The baby will show fast growth for sure, but it is unhealthy. Frequent and unscheduled shedding is the sign that your feeding schedule is not on the right track. In such cases, consult a vet and prepare a strict diet chart for the hatchling.
  • Metabolic Bone Disease: Lack of vitamin D3 or calcium in food and UV rays in the enclosure cause MBD among the baby snapping turtles. The first 6 months is the period of development for any turtle. Suffering from MBD during that time not only hampers healthy growth but can also kill the baby. Ensuring a balanced diet, adding supplements to the meal, and setting up quality UV light can prevent and cure the condition.
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Apart from these common diseases, a baby snapping turtle can easily fall victim to parasites, lumps and tumors, mouth or ear rot, shell fracture, etc.

As illness makes the baby snapping turtles vulnerable, you need to keep an extra eye on their health. Take them to a vet right after their birth. Measure the carapace lengths and body weight regularly to track the growth. If you notice the pets losing weight, it can be a sign of sickness.

Baby Snapping Turtles Community Habitat

Snapping turtles are aggressive and can snap at any moment. Raising multiple adult males in a single enclosure is not recommended for that very reason.

However, baby snapping turtles are not aggressive at all and can make peace with each other. If you have just hatched a clutch of snapping turtles, go ahead and put them in a big enclosure. But yes, experts discourage keeping more than 3 hatchlings in the same tank.

If you want to raise multiple snapping turtles in a single aquarium, ensure enough space, food, hiding places, and basking spots. Otherwise, the hatchlings will have slow growth.

Community habitats of baby snapping turtles have their own disadvantages, for example, higher risk of sickness, challenges of handling multiple babies, etc. Think twice before putting more than two babies in the same tank.

Baby Snapping Turtle Care Sheet: Points To Remember

By now, you have got all the details you need to know on raising a baby snapping turtle. Allow me to point out the keynotes for you,

  • Arrange a 10-gallon tank to accommodate a single snapping turtle hatchling. Do not lay out the bottom with any substrate.
  • The water level of the tank should be such that the baby can breathe air while standing. But yes, there has to be enough water that submerges the turtle’s shell.
  • Provide the baby with a basking station.
  • Set up a water filter for continuous cleaning. If you are in a cold area, a tank heater is mandatory. The temperature should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Install UV light over the basking station. Also, manage a heating lamp that will contribute to maintaining a temperature of 80 to 90 degrees.
  • While decorating the aquarium, avoid plants that require soil to thrive. Also, place rocks and hiding spots in the enclosure.
  • Add both animal protein and plant matters to the diet chart. Feed the baby twice every day following the 15-minute or head method.
  • Runny nose, coughing, weight loss, appetite loss, spending more time basking, etc., are the signs that the baby snapping turtle is sick. Take the turtle to the vet as soon as possible.


I tried my best to explain everything I knew about taking care of a baby snapping turtle. Though the baby snapping turtle makes a great pet, raising it is not for a beginner. If you are an intermediate turtle keeper, research the species first to ensure the best care possible. In any doubt, consult the expert and seek advice.

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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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