What do Snapping Turtles Eat?

What do Snapping Turtles Eat?

The Common North American Snapping Turtle is a popular first turtle because they are affordable, hardy, and long-lived, so you can build a lasting relationship with your pet turtle. However, these turtles can be a challenge for inexperienced aquarists and need careful handling for safety. Here’s a closer look at what snapping turtles eat and how to feed them properly.

What do Snapping Turtles Eat?

Common snapping turtles live in shallow ponds and streams throughout North America. Many of them live in brackish water in estuaries, and they are happiest when they have lots of rocks, driftwood, and hiding places to explore.

They are opportunistic eaters, scavenging both plant and animal matter, but they are also active hunters and will eat nearly anything they can swallow. Wild snapping turtles eat fish, frogs, reptiles, invertebrates, and sometimes even small birds and mammals.

Snapping turtles are at the top of the food chain in their natural environment, with very few natural threats, which is one of the reasons for their famous fearless behavior.

You can feed a snapping turtle a huge variety of foods, including:

  • Plant material. Adult snapping turtles should get 25-30% of their food from plants. They will munch on living aquarium plants, so fast-growing plants like hornwort, java moss, duckweed, water lettuce, and water hyacinth are all good choices. It’s also a good idea to feed them a few lettuce leaves or leafy greens a few times a week. You may also offer additional fruits and vegetables occasionally, including apples, carrots, blueberries, grapes, cantaloupe, pears, and other foods cut into small pieces.
  • Meat or fish. Snapping turtles need healthy protein in addition to plants and vegetables. Snapping turtles will eat freshwater crayfish, feeder fish, ghost shrimp, small reptiles, raw beef, liver or organ meat, clams, etc. Offer one or two pieces of fish or meat per feeding.
  • Insects and invertebrates. Snapping turtles will happily eat earthworms, crickets, snails, and other insects.
  • Pellets and turtle diets. There are a wide range of turtle and catfish pellets that turtles will enjoy.
  • Supplements. Most experts recommend regularly adding multi-vitamin and calcium supplements  to a snapping turtle’s diet.

A snapping turtle’s natural diet is incredibly diverse, and so it supplies all the different vitamins and minerals they require for health. In captivity, it’s critical to add nutritional supplements and keep the turtle’s diet as varied as possible.

If you choose to offer pellets, use 3-4 different types and brands of pellets, and alternate which you feed, in order to broaden the variety and available nutrients for your snapping turtle.

Most snapping turtle health problems in home aquariums are related to nutritional deficiency. Choose high-quality food and supplements to make sure your snapping turtle gets their necessary vitamins and calcium for health.

How to Feed a Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles cannot swallow food on land, so they require an aqua-terrarium, with plenty of water but also some dry land for basking. Offer food in the water so they can swallow it.

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How often to feed a snapping turtle:

  • Adult snapping turtles should be fed every 2-3 days
  • Offer a calcium supplement 3 times a week
  • Sprinkle food with a multi-vitamin once a week

How much to feed snapping turtles:

The best way to measure how much food to give an adult snapping turtle is to use the “size of the head” method. Find a small container, like a medicine cup or bottle cap, that looks about the same size as your turtle’s head. Use that cup to measure how much food you should offer at every feeding.

To feed a snapping turtle:

  • Leave bones and skin intact. When offering meat, fish, or other types of protein, leave the bones, skin, and other body parts included with the meat. In nature, a snapping turtle will hunt or scavenge whole animals, and the bones have valuable calcium and trace minerals.
  • Cut food into small pieces. While snapping turtles are famous for their bite strength, they can’t chew their food like humans. They have been known to occasionally choke when trying to swallow bites of food that are too large for them.
  • Observe the turtle while it eats. Especially if you have a new turtle or are new to keeping turtles, it’s important to not simply toss food in the tank and walk away. Instead, stay and watch the turtle while it eats. Watching your turtle while they eat has several benefits:
  • You can make sure the turtle doesn’t choke and that food is the right size for their mouth.
  • You can pay attention to what foods your snapping turtle prefers. Each turtle is individual and will enjoy some foods more than others
  • You can make sure that any supplements or added nutrients are actually being eaten.
  • You can note how much and how quickly your turtle eats, so you know whether you are over-or under-feeding your turtle.

What do Snapping Turtles Eat

Snapping turtle snacks

In addition to regular feedings, you may occasionally offer your snapping turtle a snack or a treat. This may mean a piece of spinach or lettuce, a small chunk of apple, a pea or grape, etc.

Avoid over-feeding your snapping turtle

Healthy adult snapping turtles can survive for months without eating, so it’s easy for people to accidentally overfeed them. Observing your turtle’s eating habits will help you make sure that you aren’t feeding them too much. Here are some things to pay attention to:

  • How fast does your turtle eat? Your turtle should finish all their food within about 15 minutes of being fed. Anything not eaten within 15 minutes is either something the turtle doesn’t like, or it’s too much food per feeding.
  • Include snacks in your food measurement. If you enjoy giving your turtle snacks and do it often, then reduce the amount of food offered at regular feeding times.

Snapping turtles are hunters, scavengers, and grazers, so there are few foods they won’t eat. At home, make sure your pet snapping turtle has a diet that is as nutritious and diverse as they would have in the wild in order to avoid health problems and keep your turtle happy.