Snapping Turtle Tank Setup & Easy Care Guide!

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

Snapping turtles are often overlooked as pets for their size and defensive nature. Caring for snapping turtles is not that hard, but you must provide them with ample space and good living conditions.

This article will tell you how to set up a perfect snapping turtle tank. There needs to be more than just setting up a tank; you must also take good care of your snapper to keep it happy. So, let’s start by setting up the tank for your pet.

What Do You Need to Build a Snapping Turtle Tank?

We will talk about building an indoor tank for snapping turtles. For that, you will need the following items:

  • A tank according to the size of the turtle
  • A water filter
  • A Water heater
  • A heating lamp
  • A UVB lamp
  • Decorations
  • Sand or other appropriate substrates
  • A basking platform

You will need all the above items to build an indoor snapping turtle tank. If you build an outdoor tank or pond, you may not need a water heater or lamps to provide light and heat. Your snapping turtle should get the light and heat naturally from the sun.

Snapping Turtle Tank Setup Infographic

snapping turtle tank setup infographic

Want a printable version of this infographic? Click here!

How to Setup a Snapping Turtle Tank?

Don’t know how to set up a tank for your snapping turtles? Then follow these steps to build an ideal habitat:

Step 1: Choose a Large Tank

By now, you probably know the 10 -gallon water per inch of a turtle rule. So, your baby snapping turtles should be able to stay in a small 10-gallon tank for the time being.

But it is always better to keep Common snapping turtles in a large tank because they can grow to 5 to 6 inches long in the first two years of their life. Then you have to transfer your snapping turtle to a 55-gallon tank.

Besides, people should remember that both common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) are not good swimmers. Hence, they prefer less depth and more space in the tank. So, the larger the tank is, the better it is for your snapping turtle.

If you have multiple juvenile or adult snapping turtles, it is best to build an outdoor pond for your snapping turtles.

Step 2: Adding Substrates and Decorating the Tank

Many snapping turtle owners prefer to keep the tank bottom clean. They do not want the tank to get blurry when snapping turtles dig into the substrate.

But I prefer lining the bottom of the tank with sand. In the wild, snapping turtles bury themselves in the mud underwater. So, you can have a layer of sand or mixed sand at the bottom of the tank. Sand and mixed soil are also helpful for live plants in the tank.

For further decoration, you can add some gravel and rocks. Snapping turtles often hide in underwater rocks or caves. So, you can place an artificial cave on the sand. Or you can put some logs. Place the tree logs in such a way that your snapping turtle can climb on them to get to the surface.

Step 3: Setup the Water Filter

Snapping turtles are carnivores, and they are messy eaters. They produce a lot of waste. So, you must change the tank water daily without a water filter. Changing the water of a large tank is time-consuming and laborious work. Besides, the tank will get dirty very fast.

Therefore, you must install a powerful water filter in your snapping turtle’s tank. Consider buying a canister filter. It is powerful and large enough to keep a large tank of water clean and healthy for the turtles. But you will need extra space for the canister filterers as they are external filters.

Use internal filters if you do not have space for an external filter. You can use two filters for powerful filtration. No matter how powerful the filters are, you must change the tank water at least once every two weeks.

Step 4: Maintain Water Temperature with a Water Heater

Maintaining an ideal water temperature for snapping turtles is crucial for their health. Placing a water heater underwater helps to maintain the temperature.

Snapping turtles spend most of their time in the water. Snapping turtles rarely get out of the water to bask. They keep some part of their body in the water while basking under the light.

So, the water should be kept at an ideal temperature. Use a water heater to keep the temperature between 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit for adult snapping turtles and 78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit for baby snapping turtles.

Buy a water heater according to the size of your tank. You can use a 55-watt water heater for a 40-gallon tank and a 75-watt tank for a 55-gallon tank.

Learn more about water heaters here.

Step 5: Fill in the Tank with Water

After setting everything in the tank, you need to fill the tank with water. You can get an aquarium water-change kit to quickly transfer water into the tank without spilling. If you do not have the budget, use a bucket or hose.

Also, consider the water quality. It should be non-chlorinated water. So, if you are using tap water, dechlorinate the water.

The water should not be too deep. Snapping turtles are not good swimmers. They might drown in deep water if they cannot get to the surface for air. Your snapping turtle should be able to get air by extending its neck or body to the surface. You can also arrange logs for the turtles to climb on. 

Step 6: Prepare a Basking Spot

Snapping turtles are aquatic turtles. Do they need a basking area?

Snapping turtles rarely come out of the water on the land for basking. They come to the water surface and bask on logs or rocks. Even then, they remain partially in the water.

However, adult female turtles come to the land for nesting. During that time, they may bask on the land. Hence, you may not provide a separate basking area for baby or juvenile snapping turtles. But for adult snapping turtles, you must provide a land area for basking.

To save space in the tank, you can set up basking platforms for young snapping turtles. The driftwood/ logs/ rocks placed in the tank can also work as basking platforms for snapping turtles.

Step 7: Provide UV Lights

UV lights are essential if you keep snapping turtles in an indoor tank. You can get a lamp that hocks on the tank or hang the lights on a separate stand. Buy a high-quality lamp that provides both UVA and UVB lights for your snapping turtle.

The lights should be placed above the basking spot. Your turtle should be able to bask under the UV lights, either from the basking platform or the surface of the water. But the lights should not hang too low, as they might burn the turtle.

Step 8: Decorating with Plants

You can make your snapping turtles more comfortable by placing some water plants in the tank. Instead of using plastic plants, use live plants to decorate the tank. Having plants in the tank is helpful for the environment. They add to the look of the tank. Live plants can improve water quality and keep algae growth under control.

However, you must be careful while choosing plants for a snapping turtle tank. Snapping turtles are primarily carnivores, but they still bite on plants. So, the plants should not be toxic for snapping turtles. 

Here is a list of poisonous plants to avoid. 

Step 9: Secure the Tank with a Cover

Finally, you need to get a cover for your snapping turtle tank. The popular choice for turtle tanks is metal netting covers. These tanks prevent turtles from escaping the tank.

Above all, a cover protects or turtle from external threats. Like other turtles, snapping turtles also need UV lights. These lights can get extremely hot and even burst. The metal cover prevents the broken glass from getting into the tank. Thus, it protects the turtles. 

After setting up everything, plug in the cables of the electronic devices. Make sure everything works properly before putting your snapping turtles inside. When everything is settled, transfer your snapping turtle into the tank. Snapping turtles prefer to stay alone, so let your snapper explore the tank independently.

Do Snapping Turtles Need UV?

All turtle species require UV lights. Snapping turtles also rely on their surroundings to regulate their body temperature. Snapping turtles spend most of their time underwater in the wild. However, they come to the surface to bask under the sun for some time. Besides, sunlight can reach underwater.

Since pet snapping turtles in the indoor tank do not get natural light, you must provide UV light. These lights are essential for your turtle’s proper growth. Turtles need UVB lights to produce vitamin D3 in their body. On the other hand, UVA light helps perform daily activities and guarantees healthy eating habits.

What Is the Best Habitat for A Snapping Turtle?

Baby and juvenile snapping turtles can be accommodated comfortably in an aquarium tank. However, snapping turtles can grow really fast. The average size of an adult snapping turtle can be 8 to 12 inches long. Some alligator snapping turtles can reach 16 inches long!

Therefore, snapping turtle owners often keep their pets in an outdoor pond. A shallow pond with lots of space is an ideal habitat for large-size snapping turtles. You can also decorate the pond’s surroundings with lots of live plants. An outdoor pond should get natural light and heat from the sun. So, you do not have to set heating or UV lamps for the pond.

How to Take Care of Snapping Turtles?

Caring for snapping turtles is not so hard once you know how. Make sure you have provided a suitable habitat. Then you must pay attention to their living conditions, food, and health.

Maintaining Tank Temperature

Controlling the tank temperature is crucial for your snapping turtle’s health. There should be different levels of temperature all throughout the tank. The ambient (air) temperature in the tank should be 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Set the basking lamps on one end of the tank. There, the temperature should be 90 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, the water temperature should be 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the turtle’s age.

Snapping turtles have incredible resistance to the cold. So, they can live in lower temperatures compared to many other species of turtles. But keeping snapping turtles in cold temperatures continuously can cause many health problems. Your snapping turtle can get respiratory issues and shell rot.


Baby snapping turtles are carnivores. However, they become omnivores as they age, meaning they eat animal and plant-based foods. Here is a list of food for pet snapping turtles:

  • Insects such as crickets and grasshoppers
  • Various types of worms
  • Fish (minnows, guppies)
  • Tadpoles and frogs
  • Crustaceans (ghost shrimp, crayfish)
  • Lean chicken or turkey meat
  • Moss, duckweed, water lettuce, and water hyacinth
  • Leafy greens (mustard, romaine)
  • Tomatoes and carrots
  • Apples and peaches
  • Bananas and pineapple
  • Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries
  • Cherries
  • Watermelon

Apart from these foods, you should also feed them commercial food supplements. It will fill the need for various vitamins and minerals.

Baby snapping turtles need to eat food at least twice every single day. They need the extra nutrients and energy to grow and stay healthy. You do not have to feed your adult snapping turtle every day. Feed them a balanced diet every other day or four days a week.

You may feed your turtle commercial food supplements daily if they need them. But try not to overfeed your snapping turtle.

What To Feed A Baby Snapping Turtle

Regular Health Check

Snapping turtles should be checked for health issues regularly. If you have multiple snapping turtles, check on them daily.

Snapping turtles can be aggressive when it comes to their safety. They feel threatened when anything, even their fellow turtles, gets too close to them. They can bite and injure each other in the tank. Snapping turtle bites cause serious damage, so you should treat their injuries fast.

Besides, snapping turtles can develop many health issues. Some common diseases are shell rot, fungal infection, Hypovitaminosis, metabolic bone diseases, and parasites.

Suppose you observe your snapping turtle has nasal discharges, a soft shell, sunken eyes, skin blisters, or an abnormally peeled shell. In that case, you must take it to an experienced veteran. Even if your turtle is healthy, take it to the vet at least once a month.

Keep the Tank Clean

You may have a water filter, but it is better to clean the tank manually every day. Scoop out the leftover foods and feces from the tank to maintain a healthy environment. Change the tank water every two weeks.

After cleaning the tank, wash your hands properly. Turtle feces can contain dangerous bacteria like Salmonella. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

How to Pick up a Snapping Turtle?

As you can see, you have to pick up or hold your snapping turtle for various reasons. Everyone knows that snapping turtles can snap at you hard when they feel threatened. Even the bites from baby snapping turtles can hurt a lot. Therefore, an owner must learn how to pick up their snapping turtle.

Here is how you can hold a baby snapping turtle:

  • Always approach a snapping turtle from behind (out of their sight).
  • Put your index finger beneath the snapping turtle’s shell and between the rear legs. Then place your thumb on the top of the shell.
  • Your hands should look like you are pinching the baby-snapping turtle. Then gently pick up the baby snapper.

The size of juvenile snapping turtles is much bigger than baby snapping turtles. So, you must use both hands to pick them up and firmly grip them. Put your fingers under each side of the turtle shell and place the thumbs on top of the shell. Then hold it firmly and pick it up.

Picking an adult snapping turtle is also different from the younger turtles. Here is how to do it:

  • Get close to the snapping turtle from behind. The point is staying out of its focus.
  • Use your left hand to slightly raise the turtle shell’s lower edge slightly.
  • Then put your right hand under the shell between the rear legs of the turtle.
  • After that, put your left hand on top of the shell.
  • Hold the turtle firmly and pick it up.

Remember to keep your hands at the lower part of the shell so that the snapping turtle cannot reach your hands. Snapping turtles have very flexible necks that can extend to bite you.

After you finish what you need to do with the snapping turtle, place it gently on the water and back away slowly.


Keeping a snapping turtle as a pet can be challenging at first. But eventually, you will enjoy having a unique pet. Always start with building a proper tank for snapping turtles. Use this guide to create an ideal tank for your snapping turtle. And remember to tend to your snapping turtle’s daily needs.

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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