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Can A Snapping Turtle Bite Your Finger Off?

Can a snapping turtle bite your finger off? You bet they can! Several recorded reports have chronicled snapping turtles biting off people’s fingers and it makes sense when you think about it. They have sharp, keratin beaks, but more importantly, they possess the bite force to use them effectively.

The snapping turtle is a chelonian endemic to the Americas, and they’re commonly found across the United States and southern Canada. You can also find snapping turtles in Central and South America.

The snapping turtle species in Central America and South America are known as the Central American and South American snapping turtles, respectively, while the North American snapping turtles are the Common snapping turtle and the Alligator snapping turtle.

All these turtles, of course, can cause serious injuries with their powerful bites — always approach or handle with care (although it’s really better just to give the turtle its space!).

Bite Force of A Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtle beak
Snapping turtles won’t turn down ‘finger food’ if they think you might be a threat!

So, what is the bite force of a snapping turtle, anyway? Well, the common snapping turtle has a bite force of about 209 Newtons (47 pound-force) and the alligator snapping turtle has a bite force of 158 Newtons (35.5 pound-force).

To put things into perspective, humans have a bite force of about 1300 Newtons (292.3 pound-force) between our second molars. Lions on the other hand can generate as much as 4450 Newtons (1000.4 pound-force) with their bites.

The difference between the bite force of the animals mentioned and the snapping turtle is massive, but you need to consider something very important – turtles have sharp beaks!

Think of a bulk paper cutter to really let the lesson sink in. It has a sharp, razor edge, so that very little force can cut through entire reams of paper. It’s not the amount of force that matters so much, as it is the focal point of said force, and for snapping turtles, it’s a tough, sharp beak made of keratin.

Keratin is the same stuff that your hair and fingernails are made of, but it’s also the stuff that lion’s claws are made of, so it’s definitely durable and potentially very sharp! The jaws of snappers are sharp indeed and adapted to lacerating prey.

Thus those Newtons get put to deadly use when the turtle needs it. By way of example, a snapping turtle can actually bite the heads off of other turtles – so when you get right down to it, fingers don’t really stand a chance if one of these turtles catches one or more in their jaws!

Curious about the different types of snapping turtles? There are 5 of them and you can find out more here when you’re done!

Can a snapping turtle bite your finger off? – Real Incidents

Snapping turtle eating a breadstick
Your fingers are tougher than breadsticks, but still quite vulnerable to a snapping turtle’s bite force.

Many of us have heard the accounts of snapping turtles biting off fingers, but is any of that true? Surely these must be urban myths and tall tales, right?

They aren’t.

Snapping turtles can and have bitten off human fingers. and while they do not normally attack humans, if a snapping turtle feels threatened or cornered, then they can and probably will react aggressively.

Like other turtles, they do not go after humans, so if a snapping turtle snaps at you then it means the turtle is scared. This occurs when approached or picked up, and it’s just a ‘fight or flight’ instinct making the sensible decision — after all, the turtle is too slow for the ‘flight’ option.

The exact number of times that a snapping turtle has bitten off human fingers is impossible to know, as medical records are protected, private data. That said, when this sort of thing happens, people like to talk about it, so we do have some stories that we can share.

One of the more publicized incidents happened in a bar in Alabama and it was centered around a bet where a large alligator snapping turtle was placed on a counter and the owner wagered that he could put his hand into an alligator snapper’s mouth before the mouth snapped shut.

As you can imagine, alcohol was involved and it went much like you would expect. The alligator snapper ended up biting off two fingers of a participant, who got their ’15 minutes of fame’ in the news.

Another incident was the discovery of a human finger in a snapping turtle’s belly. This alligator snapper had been caught for human consumption (turtle soup is pretty popular, after all), and the finger was found when the fisherman was cutting out the meat.

The harvesting and killing of alligator turtles are legal in several locales in the United States, so incidents like these certainly occur from time to time.

The last incident we’ll share happened to a 15-year-old teen boy who attempted to take photos with a snapping turtle he’d discovered in the wild. This happened in Louisiana and after finding a wild snapping turtle near a stream, the boy attempted to get some photos with the turtle.

Then he made the mistake of trying to move it.

Snapping turtles are ambush hunters, and can move suddenly and rapidly to attack prey. Before the boy realized it, the snapping turtle struck and removed the boy’s left index finger.

How To Treat A Snapping Turtle Bite

Snapping turtle bites can be painful and are usually serious. These bites can cause bleeding and if left untreated, can lead to infections. Treating snapping turtle bites is usually straightforward, but there are times when you require medical attention.

The severity of the bite will decide how you need to act. Just be sure to act FAST.

The best way to deal with a snapping turtle bite is to avoid it altogether – find out how to properly handle them when you’re finished here!

Treating Bites That Do Not Break The Skin

Sometimes, the bite from a snapping turtle doesn’t break the skin. These bites are still painful and should still be treated, regardless of how harmless they appear on the surface. So, how do you treat them?

Simply washing the bite with soap and warm water should be good enough. You should still watch for signs that the bite is more severe than you anticipated, such as swelling and painful sensation that fails to disappear after 24 hours.

Treating Superficial Bites That Break The Skin

Nurse bandaging a leg
If helping a snapper across the street, watch your ankles as well as your hands!

Most snapper bites will break the skin. A lot of times, the bite isn’t that serious, such as when there is minimum bleeding and the wound isn’t deep. It is still important to treat these bites to prevent infection, however, so you’ll need to be diligent about this right away.

It is important to seek medical attention in such cases quickly if treatment doesn’t seem to help, as bites from animals that live in aquatic habitats are known for being highly pathogenic, polymicrobial, and potentially life-threatening.

Let’s take a look at what you can do right away in the instance of a snapping turtle bite.

Materials Needed:

  • Clean cloth
  • Bandage
  • Antibiotic Ointment/Creams such as Neosporin and Polysporin


Wash Your Hands Before Treating The Cut

You or whoever is treating the bite needs to be clean, so it’s time for a quick hand wash with soap under running water. This will help to minimize the chances of making the wound dirtier than it was before!

Apply Pressure To The Bite

It is necessary to apply firm pressure to the bite. This would stop it from bleeding. To apply pressure, get a clean bandage. Apply pressure for about 10 minutes. If the bite is still biting, then contact a medical professional.

Clean The Laceration

Once the laceration isn’t bleeding, you need to clean it by removing the dirt and debris from it. Run the bite under clean water for about 5 minutes and after this, use a clean bandage or cloth to remove debris left behind.

Apply Topical Antibiotic To The Bite

Apply antibiotics such as Neosporin or Polysporin to the bite — you’ll find a lot of over-the-counter antibiotics that you can use to treat the bite at your local pharmacy. If you develop adverse side effects due to the use of topical ointment, then you should consult a doctor.

Cover The Bite

Covering the bite helps to keep it clean. You should use a bandage that allows the injury to be properly aerated, such as a standard, large band-aid.

Change The Dressing As Needed Or At Least Once A Day

The bandage needs to be changed when dirty or if it is staying fairly clean, you should still change it at least once a day. Reapply the antibiotic ointment you are using when changing the bandage and you’re good to go.

Watch Out For Infections

Snapping turtle bites can easily become infected. If that happens, don’t wait to see if it goes away — get to a doctor immediately. The signs of an infection include an increase in the size of the wound, pus, swelling, change in color of the bite, redness, and a painful feeling around the bite.

Treating Severe Bites That Break The Skin

First aid kit
Always keep a first aid kit in your backpack and your car – you never know when they might come in handy!

How do you tell if the bite can be considered severe? Most people can tell if a bite is serious because of how much the bite bleeds or by the simple fact that it is obviously deep. Snappers can easily cause severe injuries, so if you aren’t sure, then it’s always best to go to the doctor to be on the safe side.

When seeking immediate medical attention, the victim should not drive themselves to the hospital/clinic/medical professional. A friend or family member should drive instead, or you can also call emergency medical services.

Signs That A Bite Is Severe And Requires Medical Attention

The Bite Spurts, Sprays, Or Gushes Blood

If the bite is spraying or spurting blood, then this means that a blood vessel has then torn or severed. In cases like this, apply pressure to the wound with a clean cloth/material while you wait for medical attention from a professional such as a nurse, paramedic, or doctor.

Superficial bites that won’t stop bleeding, even after applying pressure for 10 minutes, are considered severe bites and should be addressed immediately with the help of a medical professional.

Bites aren’t supposed to keep bleeding if you have applied pressure to the bite for more than 10 minutes, so if this happens to you or someone you know, then get a doctor involved right away. You do not want to lose too much blood, so don’t wait – get emergency treatment right away.

Bites That Fracture The Bone Or Cause Severe Injuries

If the force of the bite breaks a bone, then it is obviously a severe bite and you should seek medical attention immediately.

Bites To The Abdomen, Nose, Chest, Or Throat

Bites to any of these parts of the body are also considered severe. If a snapper bites you in any of these parts, then it’s best to visit the hospital as quickly as possible for treatment.

Emergency Symptoms

If the victim is vomiting, unconscious, dizzy, breathing irregularly or rapidly, or struggling to breathe, then this is another scenario where emergency services should be contacted right away.

Performing First Aid

First aid is essential and can save your life. While the bite itself isn’t toxic, f you lose too much blood you then you are still in very serious trouble. Some basic first aid should be your first step. If you have no one with you, then you will need to apply pressure to the bite yourself.

If you aren’t alone, it is best to have the other person assist you if they are capable. Depending on your location, you may need to procure transportation to the hospital, so call for a paramedic if you can. Don’t try to drive yourself to the hospital unless there are no other options.

Get In Touch With A Medical Professional

The easiest way to contact emergency services is to simply call 911, unless you have the phone number of your own personal doctor handy and they accept emergency appointments.

Lay The Person Down

If the victim has no spinal, head, or neck injury, then have them lay down on their back. Elevate their legs by about a foot (30 cm). Do not elevate the victim’s head.

Treat The Wound

Remove debris and dirt from the bite, using a clean cloth (if you can find one) to apply pressure to the bite. Apply this pressure firmly and it should help to reduce or stop the bleeding.

If the bite is serious enough, the cloth can get bloodied, but Instead of replacing the cloth, you should just add additional fabric. Keep applying the pressure until the medical assistance arrives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can any type of snapping turtle bite off a human finger?

Yes, potentially. An adult common snapping turtle has a bite force of about 209 Newtons (47 pounds) and the alligator snapping turtle has a bite force of 158 Newtons (35.5 pound-force), but these are just the most well-known examples.

The Central American, Suwannee, and South American snapping turtles have not been properly studied, but we do know that they have bite forces similar to the alligator and common snapping turtle, and as such are perfectly capable of severing fingers with their bite if you are unlucky.

What turtle has the most powerful bite?

The turtle known to have the strongest bite force is the Guyanan toad-headed turtle (Mesoclemmys nasuta). This turtle was recorded to have a bite force of 1920 Newtons (431.6 pound-force). This is over ten times the bite force of an alligator snapping turtle!

What animals have the strongest bite force?

Crocodiles have been reported to have the strongest bite force, as far as aquatic animals go. These include the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) and the saltwater crocodile ( Crocodylus porosus).

The Nile crocodile can exert a bite force of 22241.1 newtons or (5000 pound-force). The saltwater crocodile has been recorded to have a bite force of 16,414 newtons (3,690 pounds-force).

The hippo, however, has the strongest bite for a land animal at 8100 newtons, which is approximately 1820 pounds per square inch!


Today we have answered the question ‘Can a snapping turtle bite your finger off?’ and the answer is a resounding ‘YES’. There have indeed been several reports of individuals losing a finger to a snapping turtle, so it’s important to learn how to handle them properly and to treat wounds if they should occur.

While it is rare to lose a finger to a snapping turtle, a bite usually lacerates the skin, and this type of injury is certainly serious enough. So, be sure to study up on proper handling and bite treatment if you intend to keep a snapping turtle or if you think you might need to help one across the road.

Don’t worry – snapping turtles are only aggressive if they are frightened – but now that you know how serious a bite could potentially be, you can prepare yourself with the knowledge to avoid it or to help yourself or others in case of an emergency!

Ever wonder which turtles are most likely to try to take a chunk out of you? Find out the 7 species of aggressive turtles most likely to bite!

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