How to Care for Baby Snapping Turtles (Care & Feeding Guide)

In this article, you’ll find out exactly what to feed baby snapping turtles and how to set up a 5-star enclosure for your new pet.

Key Takeaway:

Baby snapping turtles eat a mainly carnivorous diet with lots of protein. Feed them small fish, insects, aquatic plants, and pelleted food. Put hatchlings in a 10-gallon tank. Heat the water to 78 to 80°F. Clean the tank at least once a month.

We’ll be going through these care instructions in more detail coming up next.

snapping turtle with its mouth open featured

How to Care for a Baby Snapping Turtle

Baby snapping turtles are freshwater turtles that are most common in parts of Canada and Florida. These animals have sharp claws, loose skin, and a tough turtle shell.

Have you just become the brand new owner of a baby snapping turtle?

Then you’ll want to know everything about this animal’s diet, enclosure requirements, and veterinary needs. We have put together a complete guide that will let you in on everything you must know about looking after this freshwater turtle.

Ready?

Then let’s dive in.

What Do Baby Snapping Turtles Eat?

It’s dinner time for your baby turtle, and he’s ready to chow down on some delicious grub. But if it’s your first time feeding your new pet you may wonder…

…What does a baby snapping turtle eat?

Both baby and adult snapping turtles are omnivorous. This means they can survive on both a plant and a meat-based diet.

Baby snappers are not picky eaters, but they do need to eat a balanced diet containing the right amount of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.

Baby snapping turtles are slightly different from other turtles. Most baby turtles, for example, will have a more carnivorous diet while they are young and eat a more herbivorous or mixed diet when they get older.

On the other hand, baby snapping turtles eat a carnivorous diet throughout their whole lives, from when they are hatchlings to their old age.

Baby Snapping Turtles Eat Protein

The main ingredient in your baby snapping turtle’s menu is protein. They consume a lot of protein.

What kind of protein do they eat?

Feed your pet baby snapping turtle the following goodies.

  • Small fish like dried river shrimp
  • Invertebrates like mealworms, snails, and slugs
  • Wild insects
  • Small frogs

How can you make sure your baby snapping turtles eat the right types of protein?

It might seem like a thrifty idea to dig around in your garden for some of these meals for your pet turtle, but doing so could be dangerous. Your common snapping turtle needs to eat food that is pesticide free, and you cannot always guarantee that with backyard goods.

The best thing to do is to buy your feeder fish, insects, and turtle food from pet stores. The protein you buy from most pet stores will be gut loaded and safe for your pet turtle to eat.

Larger pet shops will even have live food and feeder fish for you to choose from. If you opt to add live foods into your snapping turtle’s diet, ensure they are slow-moving fish and insects, as they will not be able to catch fast-moving animals.

Baby Snapping Turtles Eat Aquatic Vegetation

Apart from protein, baby snapping turtles eat aquatic vegetation. Here are a couple of their favorite veggie meals.

  • Water hyacinths and other plants of an aquatic nature
  • Algae
  • Plant leaves
  • Leafy green vegetables

Baby Snapping Turtles Eat Commercial Pellets

To supplement their fresh food and live food, you must feed juvenile snapping turtles commercial turtle food. Commercially prepared food contains the right high level of protein (at least 40%) that this turtle species needs.

The best commercially prepared food also contains the ideal levels of fat, minerals, and vitamins, like vitamin E. It will contain beta-glucans to protect your baby snapper’s immune system.

Vitamins and Calcium for Your Baby Snapping Turtle

To ensure your baby snapping turtle is getting all of the nutrients he needs, he must consume turtle supplements. Here’s a guide to help.

  • Put multivitamin powder on his food once a week (including on his live food).
  • Put calcium supplement powder on your baby turtle’s food every day (reduce this to 3 times a week when he becomes an adult).

The right balance of vitamins and calcium will prevent illnesses like soft shells.

How to Feed Baby Snapping Turtles

Ok, now we know what’s on your turtle’s menu, we need to find out how to give it to him.

Always feed your baby snapping turtle while they’re in the water. This makes it easier for them to swallow their food.

The best baby snapping turtle diet includes aquatic plants. Put these in your turtle’s water so he can snack on them when he wants to.

Feeding turtles commercial food is important too. Here’s how to do so.

  • Feed them only a small amount of pellets.
  • Scatter commercial foods on the surface of the water in their enclosure. They will eat for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove any food they do not eat after this time to prevent overeating. You will soon get an idea of how much food your baby snapping turtle will eat in one sitting.
  • Feed baby snapping turtles under 6 months old two times a day. Once they are over 6 months old, feed them once every two days.

What Size Enclosure Is Best for a Baby Snapping Turtle?

Common snapping turtles are freshwater turtles. They love being in the water and swimming around.

The tank needs to be as large as possible, but a small tank is acceptable while the turtle is still a baby.

What size is ideal?

A snapping turtle hatchling will need at least a 10-gallon tank. The best turtle habitat for juveniles is a 55-gallon tank.

Bear in mind that when your small turtle grows, you will have to move him to a larger tank, such as an outdoor pond.

snapping turtle's head

What Should Be In Your Baby Snapping Turtle’s Tank?

Aside from a place to swim, a baby snapper will need a place to come on land whenever he wants to take a break from the water. A basking dock is a great area for him to do this.

Female turtles will spend more time on land than male baby snapping turtles. Make sure you provide a female with an even larger enclosure and as it gets older, a dig box.

Your baby snapping turtle habitat does not need substrate. Turtle tanks with a bare bottom are better and can be cleaned easily.

If you want to add some large gravel or river rocks, ensure they are not so small the tiny babies could choke on them. If you use gravel, install an under-gravel filter, stir up the stones once a week, and remove them for deep cleaning every 2 to 4 weeks.

The tank must include a hide box. This is especially important if your turtle has other tank mates so he can have some time alone.

Duckweed and water hyacinth are perfect for hiding in and eating. Driftwood and a couple of large rocks will imitate the snapping turtle’s natural habitat.

The Right Air Temperature for a Baby Snapping Turtle

Baby snapping turtles are only comfortable when the air temperature in their enclosure is just right.

What’s the right air temperature for them?

The air must be between 80 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (between 27 and 30 degrees Celsius). Baby snapping turtles will also need a basking spot near 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

How to Keep the Air In the Tank Warm

Your new pet likes it nice and toasty.

How can you make sure the air temperature is perfect for your baby snapping turtle?

The following tools are awesome at raising the air temperature in your tank.

  • Heating lamp
  • Ceramic heater
  • Under tank heater

Always use a thermometer with these heaters to ensure the air temperature is neither too hot nor cold. Put one thermometer near the heat source and another further away from it to make sure there are no harsh extremes.

The Ideal Water Temperature for a Baby Snapping Turtle

The common snapping turtle likes to swim around in warm water.

And can we blame him? Who of us doesn’t enjoy a warm bath?

A baby snapping turtle will like his swimming water even warmer than adults.

The exact temperature he’ll need will vary depending on the region he’s from. Baby snapping turtles from northern regions like slightly cooler water, while those from southern regions enjoy slightly warmer water.

For the exact temperatures, you’ll need to check with your exotic pet store or veterinarian. But here are the averages.

  • Baby snapping turtles like water temperatures between 78 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (between 26 and 27 degrees Celsius).
  • Adult snapping turtles like water temperatures between 75 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit (between 24 and 26 degrees Celsius).

How to Keep the Water In the Tank Warm

What can you do to keep the water warm enough for your captive baby snapping turtles?

Here are a couple of heating sources that work really well.

  • Under tank heaters. Use these with a thermostat to ensure the water temperature stays within its optimal range. Put one thermostat near the heater and another far away from it to ensure the water is not too hot or too cold in places.
  • Submersible water heaters. Use underwater heaters with a thermostat to help you keep an eye on the water temperature. Cover the heater to prevent your baby snapping turtle from accidental burns.

Juvenile snapping turtles need a 55-gallon tank. A 75-watt heater is ideal for heating this volume of water.

The Best Water Quality for a Baby Snapping Turtle

Your baby snapping turtle will spend pretty much all his time swimming around his tank. So, the quality of the water in the tank is really important.

Here are the requirements for the water in your snapping turtle’s tank.

  • Chlorine-free
  • Contain aquarium salt. This makes the environment brackish. It should also maintain a specific gravity of between 1.015 and 1.018.
  • Ph level 6.5 to 7

Baby snapping turtles are used to the moving water and mild currents they would find in their natural environment. To mimic these, consider putting a strong filter or a water jet in the water.

The filter will ensure the ammonia levels in the water are not too high by allowing the growth of nitrates.

To ensure the water in your baby snapping turtle’s tank is up to standard, install a hygrometer. Check the water’s saline levels often.

Never use table salt or sea salt in your baby snapping turtle’s water.

How to Keep a Snapping Turtle’s Tank Clean

Deep cleaning your baby snapping turtle’s tank is a job you will have to do about once a month, depending on the water quality. The water in the habitat will get dirtier faster if you do not do the following.

  • Put the baby snapping turtle in the right size enclosure. If it is too small, the water will get dirtier faster.
  • Clean up after the baby snapping turtle finishes eating. If you do not remove uneaten food from the tank, it will float to the bottom and make the water dirty.
  • Install a water filter. Without a water filter, you will need to change the water more often.
  • Replace a third of the water every week. This will help keep the water cleaner.
  • Remove excrement from the tank.

Choosing the right size tank, removing food debris after each feed, removing excrement, and installing a filter will keep the water cleaner for longer. Sooner or later though, you will have to give the tank a complete clean.

How to Deep Clean a Snapping Turtle’s Tank

Clean your snapping turtle’s tank once a month or when the water becomes cloudy or your water filter clogs.

How must you deep clean the tank?

Here are all the steps you need.

  1. Take the baby snapping turtle out of the tank and put him in a temporary tank with the right water temperature.
  2. Empty the water from the tank.
  3. Remove the gravel and water filter (if you have these).
  4. Scrub the gravel with a special cleaning toothbrush and bleach diluted with water.
  5. Clean the tank with a solution of warm water and diluted bleach.
  6. Let the tank sit for 10 minutes with the cleaning solution inside.
  7. Rinse the tank with fresh water and allow it to dry before refilling it.
  8. Put the filter and gravel back in the tank.
  9. Put the baby snapping turtle back in the tank as soon as the water temperature is optimal.

The Right Lighting for a Snapping Turtle

Your snapping turtle baby will feel most at home in an environment similar to the one they would have in the wild. That includes 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of light each day.

UVB bulbs will help to keep your turtle baby healthy as they will promote the conversion of vitamin D into vitamin D3.

Not sure which bulb to buy for your UVB light?

Then here is a quick guide.

  • A 10.0 Reptisun bulb or equivalent is best for snapping turtle hatchlings.
  • A 5.0 Reptisun bulb or equivalent is best for an adult snapping turtle.

Taking Baby Snapping Turtles to the Vet

Taking your baby snapping turtle to the vet is essential to ensure it is healthy. These turtles grow fast, and you must keep an eye on them.

Always take your baby snapping turtle to a veterinarian that specializes in exotic pets. Within the first 90 days of owning your hatchling, take them to the vet.

There, the veterinarian will conduct a fecal analysis. They will also check the general health and well-being of the animal.

After the initial visit, take your snapping turtle to the vet at least once a year for a checkup.

How to Care for an Alligator Snapping Turtle

The way you should look after alligator snapping turtles is not too dissimilar to how you look after common snapping turtles. Listed below are the special needs of alligator snapping turtles.

Food

Unlike baby common snapping turtles, baby alligator snappers are carnivorous and piscivorous. As they become adults, they become omnivores.

The alligator snapper turtle diet consists of live foods like worms, snails, fish, amphibians, mollusks, and insects. In the wild, they eat other types of live foods like small turtles, small alligators, and aquatic rodents.

Apart from live foods, they also eat aquatic plants.

These turtles are omnivores as adults and primarily carnivores and piscivores (fish eaters) as juveniles.  Alligator snapping turtles will consume fresh water, crayfish, earthworms, pelleted diets, floating duckweed, water lettuce, and water hyacinth in their enclosure.

Tank

The alligator snapping turtle grows really fast. The hatchling snapping turtles will need, on average, a 35-gallon tank. Juveniles will need a 55-gallon tank or even larger.

These snapping turtles love having things to hide behind. Ensure their tanks contain driftwood, large rocks, branches, and other hiding spots.

Air

The air temperature for an alligator snapping turtle must be between 80 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (27 and 30 degrees Celsius). The basking spot must be around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

Water

A baby alligator snapping turtle needs a water temperature of 78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 to 27 degrees Celsius). The adult needs a water temperature of 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 27 degrees Celsius).

The water inside the tank must be flowing. You must install water pumps inside the tank.

Completely change the water in the tank every week.

Lighting

This turtle species also need 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness each day. UVB bulbs are a necessity.

Looking After Your Snapping Turtle Family

hand holding a snapping turtle

Breeding baby snapping turtles and looking after them is a tough job. It’s easy to find out information about other animals, but when it comes to snapping turtles, it’s a little tricky.

Thankfully though, in this article, we have covered everything you need to know about looking after snapping turtles.

We saw that you must feed snapping turtle babies a high-protein carnivorous diet. This includes insects, fish, commercial pellets, and some plants.

We also saw that these smaller snapping turtles thrive in a 10-gallon tank with access to 12 hours of sunlight a day through UVB lamps. The water in the tank should measure 78 to 80°F, and you must clean it at least once a month.

Did you find the information in this article interesting?

At Oddly Cute Pets, we always strive to provide you with the best guides on baby snapping turtle care. For more information about other turtle species and small animals, check out our website.

Thanks for reading!

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