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What Does a Snapping Turtle Eat?

| Updated September 26, 2017

Snapping turtles eat many types of animals and aquatic plants. They use the rough cutting edge of their beak-shaped upper jaw to tear their food for consumption because they don't have teeth to chew food.

Prey Foods

Snapping turtles are considered opportunistic omnivores, thus they will eat pretty much any living critter they can get in their mouths. Some of the many animal foods they eat include:

  • Fish
  • Tadpoles
  • Frogs
  • Small turtles
  • Salamanders
  • Snails
  • Leeches
  • Worms
  • Snakes
  • Crayfish
  • Bird eggs
  • Nestlings
  • Birds
  • Mallards
  • Geese
  • Small mammals
  • Insects
  • Carrion

Plant Foods

Plants make up about a third of a snapping turtle's diet. The numerous aquatic plants a snapping turtle may eat include:

  • Leaves
  • Algae
  • Yellow pond lily
  • Common duckweed
  • Water lettuce
  • Water fern
  • Common arrowhead
  • Bog moss
  • Bog buttons
  • Water hyacinth
  • Mermaid weed
  • Hydrilla

Feeding Habits

Snapping turtles eat at dawn and dusk when they are most active. Their name is appropriate -- they grab their food with a quick snapping motion. Younger snapping turtles forage for food when need be, but older turtles lie in wait in the water to surprise their prey. When snapping turtles eat other turtles, they do so by biting their heads off first, which is hypothesized to be either inefficient feeding behavior or a method of protecting their territory.

Feeding a Pet Snapping Turtle

Do not overfeed snapping turtles -- they are prone to becoming obese. An adult should only be fed 2 or 3 times a week. A growing hatchling should be fed every day or every other day.

Animal foods for pet snapping turtles that are available at pet stores include crayfish, worms, ghost shrimp, insects, minnows and guppies. Snapping turtles can also eat chicken, turkey and beef heart. Don't feed hamburger; the fat content is too high. Feed a turtle two to three pieces of fish or meat at each feeding.

Plants that pet snapping turtles will eat and are available at pet stores include duckweed, water hyacinths and water weeds. They can also eat romaine lettuce, mustard greens and other leafy greens. Feed a turtle 4 to 5 leaves of greens at each feeding.

According to the World Chelonian Trust, many commercially prepared turtle foods can be an excellent part of a turtle's diet when given in combination with fresh animal and plant foods.

Feed your turtle outside the tank in a feeding tub. Because many turtles eliminate after eating, this will keep their tank cleaner. If you do feed the turtle in his tank, remove any uneaten food in a timely matter so the food doesn't spoil and foul the turtle's living environment.