Do Turtles & Tortoises Bite? When and Why?

We all know turtles as shy and peaceful creatures. They keep a low profile. And when they feel threatened, they prefer to hide in their homey hideaway, aka shells, instead of snapping at the threat.

But, hey, is that a turtle bite mark on your finger? Did your pet turtle make you feel the pinch? Ouch!

Don’t worry. It’s nothing serious. But if you’re wondering, “Can turtles bite?” and “Do turtle bites hurt?” we have answers.

Quick peek: Tortoises and turtles can bite, and it hurts. A turtle will bite other animals and humans out of fear, confusion, or hunger. Turtles also bite themselves. 

Why do turtles bite? Do all turtle species bite?  You’ll learn more about it coming up next in this article.

turtle biting its food

Do All Turtles and Tortoises Bite?

Turtles and tortoises are docile gliders. Their first line of defense is their boney shell, which they can retreat into if threatened. But with all the predators ready to put turtles on their menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, shells alone aren’t enough. That’s when these slow shell dwellers resort to their beaks and claws to keep them safe in the wild.

Key Takeaway:

Bite-sized fact: Turtles and tortoises don’t have teethInstead, they have hard beaks and powerful jaw muscles. 

Now, switching back to the main concern: do all turtles bite?

Since all turtles and tortoises have beaks (and limits), they can all bite. However, some turtle species might be more defensive than others. Snapping turtles, for instance, are the most savage wild turtles out there. They have the deadliest bites. Snapping turtles can skin your finger, draw blood from it, or even sever it. Don’t take them lightly.

Do baby turtles bite too?

Yes, baby turtles can bite too. Biting is a natural skill. Of course, the bigger the turtle, the stronger the bite force – so don’t worry too much about those baby turtle nibbles!

What Turtles Don’t Bite?

Are there any turtles that don’t bite? What about captive-bred turtles and tortoises? Do they bite too?

Captive-bred turtles like map turtles, box turtles, and painted turtles aren’t as likely to bite. They have been domesticated for generations and are used to living with humans. Nevertheless, it’s best not to take any chances.

Do Turtles Bite Humans?

Yes, turtles can bite humans. Turtles and tortoises are opportunistic eaters. They’re not afraid to try new things. Whether it’s a juicy bug or your wiggly toe, turtles will take a bite to find out if it’s worth chomping down on.

Do pet turtles bite too?

Yes, they do. It is why it’s safer to wear shoes when your slow wanderers are out exploring.

However, they don’t bite “just because.” When turtles bite, there’s a good reason behind it.

Who Else Do Turtles Bite?

Turtles and tortoises are just as territorial as they are opportunistic. It means they’ll bite other turtles, mostly female turtles, to protect their territory or secure a mate.

They can also bite each other during fights over food or basking spots in the sun. Usually, these fights don’t last long. But a turtle bite can be a nasty one to the ear, eye, or tail of another turtle.

Sometimes, the turtle might even bite himself. Nasty, but true!

Let’s learn more about why turtles bite and who they bite.

Why Do Tortoises and Turtles Bite Humans?

We’ve already learned that turtles bite humans. The bite’s intensity depends on the type of turtle you choose to pet. Also, it’s not an everyday occurrence. Your pet is still your pet, not a biting machine.

There are two main reasons why a turtle might bite its owner.

Out of Fear

Of course, you aren’t trying to harm your pet. But the poor fellow might not know if you’re a friend or an enemy. This happens mostly when people try to pick up their pet turtles without warning.

The sudden movement and the rush of air from your hands might scare the living daylights out of them. They’ll bite whatever is closest (or you) as an act of self-defense.

Also, there are touchy and no-touchy zones on a turtle’s body. Some of them don’t like being touched underneath their shells or near their head and tail. If you touch them in these zones, they might bite out of fear.

By Mistake

As we said, turtles and tortoises are opportunistic foodies. They want to know if what they see is edible or not. They might mistake your pinky for a yummy strawberry and take a bite to check if it’s true.

It is common during hand-feeding sessions. If you have leftovers on your finger, your turtle might mistake your digit for food.

Confusion is another reason why your turtle or tortoise might gnaw on your toes or fingers. If you move your delicate digits like a worm, the turtle might mistake it for a juicy snack and munch.

The good thing is that your pet will immediately know that they bit into something wrong. They’ll release their grip and back away.

Why Turtles Bite Other Turtles?

We hope we were able to settle some curiosity (and pain) about whether turtles and tortoises bite humans and why. Now, let’s move on to why turtles and tortoises bite each other.

Tortoises and turtles grab and bite others of their kind for territory, mating, and food.


Turtles are naturally territorial. They like their privacy and personal space. If a new turtle steps into their territory, they’ll try to defend it by letting out a few warning bites.

The old timer won’t take too kindly to an intruder and might bite out of defense or annoyance. It is also to establish dominance among the pack.


Male turtles are aggressive maters. They’ll fight for the attention of a female turtle and try to ward off other males. The fights usually include a lot of biting and head bobbing.

Male turtles also bite female turtles on their legs during copulation. It is to slow the female turtles down if they try to escape.

So, if you see your turtles getting all bitey, it’s likely they are trying to mate.


We have already discovered how food-crazy turtles can be. If they can mistake human toes for yummy worms, imagine what they’d do for the real ones.

Now, imagine just one worm in the tank. The turtles will fight for it as if their lives depend on it.

In extreme cases, the bigger turtle might hunt down the smaller guy. Yes, turtle cannibalism is a thing!

turtle eating lettuce

Why Do Turtles and Tortoises Bite Themselves?

A turtle bites himself??? Is he crazy?

No, he’s not crazy. He’s just trying to make things better for himself.

There are two reasons why turtles and tortoises might start nibbling on their own bodies.


Turtles, like all other reptiles, shed skin. But unlike snakes that remove their skin all at once, turtles lose theirs in patches.

Skin shedding is an itchy and discomforting process. So, turtles gnaw on the area for relief.

It is especially true for aquatic species that don’t get exposed to much sunlight. The UV rays help turtles shed skin faster.

Skin Infection

Your tough, little crawler can get fungal and bacterial infections. It usually happens due to improper diet or dirty water. Redness, swelling, and bleeding around the skin are common symptoms of infection.

If your turtle gets infected, he might start biting himself to try and relieve the pain – kind of like how we scratch when we’re itchy.

Popular Turtle Species and Their Bites

We know that turtles will munch and crunch if given the chance.

But what does a turtle bite look like? And how powerful are they?

Let’s take a look at what turtles bite so you know what to expect from which turtle.

Snapping Turtles

Snapping turtles are the meanest and largest of their kind. These bad boys are wild and ferocious. They’ll bite anything that comes too close, including humans. So, if you have a snapper as your pet, be very careful around him.

There are two types of snapping turtles: Common snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles.

Common snapping turtles can reach up to 14 inches long, while an alligator snapping turtle can reach up to 40 inches long. They are pretty muscular. So, when a snapping turtle bites, it hurts.

How bad?

Well, expect excessive bleeding, wound infection, and even amputation if a snapper bites you.

So, it’s best to admire them from afar and never try to handle one.

Red-Eared Slider Turtles

These beautiful, semi-aquatic turtles are popular pets due to their petite size. Red-eared sliders are intelligent, so they recognize their owners. Some might even eat from the palms of humans.

But don’t let their small stature and non-aggressive demeanor fool you – red-eared slider turtles will bite if they feel threatened.

A bite from a red-eared slider, if coming from an adult, can be painful.

Softshell Turtles

Softshell turtles are a violent and endangered species. In fact, there are only two Yangtze giant softshell turtles left in the world.

Softshell turtles have leathery shells, which makes them easy to tell apart. Since their shells aren’t as protective, these turtles are quick to attack.

Small softshell turtles aren’t as aggressive as large softshell turtles. But they, too, will bite if needed. Since they have elongated necks, they can reach out to chomp on anything that comes too close. Their bites have a firm grip, so you’re likely to experience a lot of pain.

How to Avoid Turtle and Tortoise Bites?

Now that you know what happens if a turtle bites you, it’s natural you’d want to know how to avoid them.

So can I train my pet turtles not to bite?

We’re afraid that’s not possible. Turtles aren’t cats or dogs. You can’t train them. Plus, biting is their innate defense mechanism. It is a part of their natural survival strategies.

The only way to stay safe is by training yourself.

We have some helpful tips for you below:

Understand Your Pet’s Behavior

Turtles and tortoises don’t bite just because they’re mean. They bite in response to triggers like rough handling and improper diet. So, learn to read the signals your pet sends you when they’re feeling anxious or uncomfortable.

Learn Proper Handling Techniques

Turtles are docile, okay, but that doesn’t mean you can be rough with them. Handle them gently, and never scoop them up from the middle of their shell. Support their body weight with your hands, and never grab them by their sides or tail.

desert turtle with an opening mouth

Staying Safe and Snapper-Free: What We’ve Learned About Turtle Bites

Turtles and tortoises bite humans, themselves, and others of their kind. Snapping turtles’ bites, especially those from alligator snapping turtles, can be lethal. But other than that, turtle and tortoise bites are relatively mild and harmless.

That, however, doesn’t mean you should take them lightly. These are still wild animals and can cause some serious injury.

So, treat all turtles with respect, learn to read their behaviors, and take the necessary security measures to avoid getting bitten. That’s the only way you can stay safe around these species.

Did you find the information in this article helpful?

We at Oddly Cute Pets have a lot more in store for you. We want our pet-loving readers to stay informed, so we keep updating our blog with the latest pet-related news and tips. So, don’t forget to check out more on our website.

Thanks for reading!

Leave a Comment