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How to Pick Up a Snapping Turtle

| Updated September 26, 2017

Pet snapping turtles may become tame over time, if you handle them regularly, but in most cases you should pick up an adult snapping turtle with caution, since a scared or injured snapping turtle may bite. Pick him up by the back of his shell only -- avoid placing your hands too far forward on his body.

Baby and Small Snapping Turtles

You can pick up a hatchling snapping turtle with a finger and thumb; just be gentle and cautious. You'll place your thumb on the rear of the shell and your forefinger underneath, between the rear legs. As the hatchling grows into a juvenile, you'll be able to place your forefinger and middle finger between the rear legs, with the tail between them. As the juvenile turtle gains size, you'll just place more fingers underneath until he's heavy enough that you'll use both hands.

Midsize and Large Snapping Turtles

Step 1

Approach the turtle from behind so you will not be seen coming. Avoid loud noises or bumping the turtle before picking him up. If you have heavy gloves, wear them for additional protection and a better grip.

Step 2

Grasp the turtle by the back of the shell, with one hand on each side. Make sure your hands are behind his back legs, and get a good grip before lifting, as he may be slimy from the water.

Step 3

Lift the turtle and move him quickly, keeping him as low to the ground as possible to prevent serious injury if you drop him. Keep his head pointed away from your body, because his neck is flexible, and hold him as far away from your body as you can while moving the turtle to his carrier or wherever else you might be moving him.

If you've come across a turtle crossing a road, take him to a safe place that's in line with the direction he was traveling. Always take a turtle you are moving out of the road in the direction he is headed. If not, he will attempt to cross again.

Step 4

Place the turtle in the carrier, or on the ground or other surface, gently. Once you release your grip on his shell, step back quickly to prevent being bitten. Leave the turtle alone to recover from the scare.


  • Never pick a turtle up by his tail or back legs. This can seriously injure a turtle.

    If you are bitten by a snapping turtle, the best choice is to wait a moment for him to release. If you choose to kill a turtle that has a grip on you, his grip will tighten long enough to cause more injury.