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Snapping turtles are hardy captives, but their size makes their husbandry difficult. Though the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) achieves 16 to 18 inches in shell length, the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is even bigger, occasionally reaching a shell length of 3 feet.
Juvenile snapping turtles can be housed in aquariums or plastic storage boxes. Two or three square feet of space is appropriate for a single hatchling, though they grow quickly and will require two to three times this much space by the end of their second year of life. Adult snapping turtles are big animals that require large enclosures; even the smallest adult common snapping turtles will require ponds measuring 15 to 20 square feet, while the largest alligator snapping turtles require ponds with nearly 60 square feet of space.
While snapping turtles can be destructive to elaborate decorations and delicate plants, proper hiding spots are essential. Clay pots, driftwood and submerged storage boxes can all make satisfactory hiding spaces for a snapping turtle. Live plants can afford some security but may be consumed by the turtles.
Feed juvenile snapping turtles a varied diet to ensure proper nutrition; insects, pre-killed rodents, fish, and commercial turtle pellets are all important dietary staples. Feed juveniles six or seven times per week. Adults should be fed similar foods, but fruits and vegetables should also form a significant portion of their diet. Adults should be fed two or three times per week. Whenever possible, adult rodents are preferred to juvenile rodents, because adults have more highly calcified skeletons. Additionally, the fur of adult rodents will help the passage of food through the snapping turtle’s system.
Provide snapping turtles with high-quality lighting over the entire tank, but it's essential to provide a full spectrum UVB light source near the basking spot. Position the lights so they're within 12 inches of the turtle’s shell when he or she is basking. Though snapping turtles aren’t known to bask as often as slider turtles and other “sun-loving” species, it's important to provide the UVB component of the spectrum to allow for proper calcium absorption.
Use dome lamp fixtures to provide a basking spot for snapping turtles. Position the lights over the intended basking spot and adjust the bulb wattage until the basking spot temperature is between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Snapping turtles don't like to leave the water completely; an ideal basking spot is a sloping “beach” that allows the turtle to bask while remaining partially submerged.
Snapping turtles eat large quantities of food and quickly foul their water. Both food particles and turtle waste will accumulate rapidly, and quality filtration and regular water changes are necessary. When selecting a filter, choose a model rated for two to three times the number of gallons of water in the enclosure. For example, a 100-gallon tank requires a filter rated for 200 or 300 gallons. Even with high-quality filtration, partial water changes should be conducted regularly.
Both species of snapping turtle are potentially dangerous, and wise keepers treat them with great respect. The best way to manage your captive is by confining it to one area of the tank while you work on another section. As you finish tending to one spot, the turtle can be gently encouraged to move by nudging it with a long broom handle and confined to a different spot. This way, you never have to put your hands on the animal, which is stressful to the turtles and potentially dangerous for you.
- Animal Diversity Web: Chelydra Serpentina
- Animal Diversity Web: Macrochelys temminckii
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: Reptile Housing: Size, Dimension and Lifestyle
- The Turtle Source: General Care of Snapping Turtles
- Chelydra.org: Snapping Turtle Basking Light
- Chelydra.org: Snapping Turtle Growth
- Austin's Turtle Page: Common Snapping Turtle
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images