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Common Snapping Turtle Vs Alligator Snapping Turtle

In our comparative exploration of ‘Common Snapping Turtle Vs Alligator Snapping Turtle,’ we delve into the fascinating world of these two members of the Chelydridae family. How do they compare? What sets them apart? These are the questions we aim to answer today. Despite sharing some similarities, each species possesses unique features, offering a captivating study for reptile enthusiasts.

The common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle are both kept as pets, both are aggressive and will snap at you when approached, and they both possess powerful jaws capable of amputating human fingers (an Alligator snapper can supposedly snap a broomstick!).

Both snapping turtles, known for their strong jaws, resemble each other although alligator snapping turtles have a rough-looking shell that looks positively prehistoric, while the common snapper is distinguished by its smooth shell.

This is the easiest way to tell the two apart when size is not a factor (Alligator snappers are bigger), but there are certainly more facts to compare. Let’s compare the Common Snapper Turtle Vs the Alligator snapping turtle and you can see for yourself!

Common Snapping Turtle Vs Alligator Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle’s Physical Appearance and Range

  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific NameChelydra serpentina
  • Adult Carapace Length: 7.9 to 17.7 inches (20 to 45 cm)
  • Adult Mass: 8.8 to 35.2 pounds (4 to 16 kg)
  • Lifespan: 18 to 47 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List, G5: Secure (NatureServe Status)
A Common Snapping Turtle taking a little time out of the water
A Common Snapping Turtle taking a little time out of the water

The common snapping turtle is moderately large. The carapace (upper shell) of the species ranges from 7.9 to 17.7 inches (20 to 45 cm) and the tail of the turtle is almost as long as its shell. Weight-wise, it can reach a weight/mass of up to 35.34 lb (16 kg), although the common range is 8.8 to 35.2 lb (4 to 16 kg).

With these measurements and weight range, the common snapping turtle is smaller than the alligator snapping turtle.

The species occurs throughout North America, east of the Rocky Mountains, but its range also includes several Canadian provinces and most of the continental United States. It is considered uncommon or even exotic in most of the western United States.

These turtles can adapt to various environments, including brackish environments near coastal areas.

Aside from its natural ranges, common snapping turtles have also been introduced to the United Kingdom, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Japan.

The overall range of these turtles starts in southern Alberta to Nova Scotia to the Gulf Coast. It then stretches to the Rocky Mountains, and they have been introduced to British Columbia and Alberta in Canada and Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

Within Canada, the species is native to Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan.

Within these turtles in the United States, the species is native to Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Northern Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.

You’ll also find them in New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, and Montana.

Alligator Snapping Turtle’s Physical Appearance and Range

  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific NameMacrochelys temminckii
  • Adult Carapace Length: 31.1 to 39.8 inches (79 to 101 cm)
  • Adult Mass: 154.2 to 176.2 pounds (70 to 80 kg)
  • Lifespan: 11 to 70 years
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable  on IUCN Red List, G3 Vulnerable (NatureServe Status)
An Alligator snapping turtle takes an aggressive stance
An Alligator snapping turtle, sometimes colloquially called ‘alligator turtles’, takes an aggressive stance.

The alligator snapping turtle, a distinct species among turtle species, is named after its fierce appearance and distinctive spiky shell ridges known as dorsal ridges, which give this chelonian the appearance of an alligator. Often referred to as the ‘dinosaur of the turtle world’, their prehistoric appearance fascinates many. They also have large heads, a characteristic feature of this species of turtles, powerful jaws that they use for snapping, and that are powerful enough to amputate fingers!

They also have eyes on the sides of their heads and their appearance, with its prehistoric appearance, is primitive enough to be almost dinosaur-like – they look rather like a plated dinosaur known as the Ankylosaurus.

The alligator snapping turtle is quite large – in fact, it’s the largest freshwater turtle in the world!. Some of the biggest individuals to be measured include a 16-year-old specimen that weighed 249 lb (113 kg) and an individual at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago who weighed 298 lb (135 kg).

This species reaches maturity at a weight of 18 lb (8 kg) and a carapace length of about 13 inches (33 cm) and they reach sexual maturity at around 12 years of age. They will also continue to grow throughout their lives. The average weight of these snappers is 19 to 176 lbs (8.4 to 80 kg) and the average carapace length is 13.8 to 31.8 inches (35 to 80.8 cm).

Males are generally much larger than females, as well.

In the United States, the species may be found in river systems within their native range that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, and they are endemic to the southeastern United States.

You can find them in western Tennessee, Louisiana, southern Indiana, western Kentucky, western Illinois, Missouri, southeastern Iowa, north to southwestern Kansas, eastern Texas, and the Florida panhandle.

Similar to other snapping turtles, the alligator snapper is aquatic, and the few times they are found out of the water are during breeding periods. The females come out of the water to create a nest and lay eggs, but those nests are usually within 3 meters of the water. The incubation period for their eggs can vary based on environmental conditions.

Care Requirement


Common Snapping Turtle’s Habitat/Tank

A common snapping turtle in the wild
A common snapping turtle in the wild

The common snapping turtle inhabits freshwater habitats, including swamps, marshes, reservoirs, ponds, lakes, and streams, where they prefer soft muddy bottoms with submerged logs, brush, and vegetation. They are known to live in brackish water as well, though, as they are extremely hardy.

They do not bask as often as other freshwater turtles and spend most of their time at the bottom of the habitat. Similar to other turtles endemic to North America, the common snapping turtle does brumate – a reptile version of hibernation that helps them to survive colder weather.

When brumating, they do so at the bottom of their aquatic habitat buried in mud and debris, in muskrat tunnels, under overhanging banks, or beneath submerged logs. They also brumate in anoxic sites (no dissolved oxygen in the water) or shallow waters.

They do not nest in water. Typically, they will dig a nest within 593 feet (181 meters) of a permanent waterbody. They also tend to nest in soft soil or even make use of muskrat bank burrows.

In captivity, the turtle requires a massive tank or an outdoor pond. Since they are particularly aggressive, they do NOT do well in communal ponds. If you place them with other species of turtle, there is a good chance that they will wound and eventually even eat them!

The pH of the water doesn’t affect them much and they do not mind decorations, just be sure to have some aquatic vegetation in the enclosure, and driftwood will also be appreciated.

Indoors, they may be housed in a large tub or tank. As long as the container is large enough for them to swim comfortably, then they should be okay.

Interested in learning more about Common Snapping Turtle care? Check out our handy guide when you’re done here!

Alligator Snapping Turtle’s Habitat/Tank

Adult Alligator Snappers do best in small ponds
Adult Alligator Snappers do best in small ponds

These species are endemic to river systems that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, including lakes associated with rivers such as reservoirs and other large impoundments, oxbows, canals, deep parts of rivers, and sloughs. They prefer slow-moving water bodies.

The species are commonly found in shallow creeks, ponds close to rivers, bayous, and swamps. You’ll also find them in brackish waters of river mouths. Within water bodies, they live in defensible locations such as deep holes, under rock shelters, beneath undercut banks, and in logjams.

Alligator snapping turtles grow to be much bigger than common snapping turtles and as such, require much larger enclosures. Their care is similar to that of the common snapping turtle but super-sized. Their enclosures require more water and they’ll also need more food and more robust heating.

Hatchlings are tiny and can live in a 20 to 50-gallon tank for a while — but not forever. Eventually, they need to be moved to a much larger tank.

Stock tanks, large tubs, and even ponds are good examples of the space you’re going to need. Their enclosures require a lot of underwater objects such as rocks, stumps, driftwood, and even aquatic plants. This will make them feel secure and safe!

All snapping turtles need to be housed alone, as they will hunt and eat other turtles including those of their own species. A 100+ gallon tank will do for juveniles but you’ll need an 800-gallon stock tank for an adult — ideally an outdoor pond, but a large tub or stock tank will also do.

Thinking about housing an alligator snapping turtle at home? Check out our complete care guide when you’re done!

Lighting and Heating

Common Snapping Turtle’s Lighting and Heating

UV Lighting
UV lights are a must for keeping a turtle indoors

Common snapping turtles require adequate lighting and heating to thrive. In this way, they are similar to alligator snappers.  The temperature needs to be JUST right as well, so you’re going to need an aquarium heater if it’s being housed indoors.

An example of an excellent aquarium heater is the Fluval E300 Advanced Electronic Heater. Since their enclosure may likely be large, the aquarium heater needs to be one that it rated for the gallon capacity of the tank.

When housed inside, you also need to provide heat lamps for the enclosure. These warm the air as well as the basking site. While snapping turtles do not bask much, they still need the option, so that on those rare occasions that they want to enjoy the warmth of the heat lamp they’ll be able to.

They also require UVA/UVB radiation. If they are housed outside, the sun should provide the needed UVA and UVB radiation, but inside you’ll need to provide the proper lighting. If housed in a glass container, make sure to keep them out of the sun — glass tanks with heating systems can get dangerously hot!

The UV lamp that we would recommend is the REPTI ZOO T5 HO Lamp.

Make sure to replace the UV lamp regularly, as they lose intensity over time — every 6 months is going to be the best replacement frequency. The temperature range in the enclosure should be about 75 to 87 degrees Fahrenheit.

Looking for a good heat lamp? We can help you with that – find out how to choose the best in our informative guide when you are finished here.

Alligator Snapping Turtle’s Lighting and Heating

These turtles are best housed outside, but if inside then will require UV radiation. The tanks of hatchlings and juveniles housed indoors can make good use of UV lamps such as REPTI ZOO T5 HO Lamp. Adults are most easily housed outside, but if indoors you’ll need to provide them with artificial light and heat.

The alligator snapping turtle hardly basks, but you should still create a basking site for the turtle.

The water temperature can be cool with this species and the turtle should still be okay. The ideal water temperature range should be 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Basking temperatures should be in the high 80s to low 90s, and the air temperature in the enclosure should be in the low to mid 80s.

Water Filtration

Common Snapping Turtle’s Water Filtration

Snapping turtles require a filtration system, as they are messy and consume a large amount of protein. The filter has to be on all the time and since snapping turtles live in large tanks, the filter pump needs to be a powerful one.

Typically, the filter pump you get for the tank needs to be rated for TWICE the volume of water it will be filtering. The reason for this is that the turtles are a lot messier than fish and so a filter designed for the same amount of water it’s housed in will not be up to the job.

There are different types of filter pumps, such as the interior filter, hand-on-back filter, and canister filter. We recommend the canister filter as they do not take up space within the tank.

One filter pump we’d recommend is the Penn-Plax Cascade 1500 Canister Filter – it’s a real workhorse of a filter. Just be sure to change the water within the filter regularly at a rate of one third of the water within the enclosure once a week.

Alligator Snapping Turtle’s Water Filtration

Since the habitats of these turtles are large, they require much more powerful filters. For adult habitats, you need a pond filter such as VIVOHOME Pressurized Biological Pond Filter.

Juveniles and hatchlings can make do with aquarium filter pumps, as long as they are rated for twice the volume of water in the tank.

The filter pump we would recommend for tanks under 100 gallons (for juveniles and hatchlings) is the Penn-Plax Cascade 1500 Canister Filter.


Common Snapping Turtle’s Diet

Dried or live, krill are a popular food for painted turtles
Dried or live, krill are a popular food for young turtles

Common snapping turtles, as you may have guessed, are predators.

In the wild, they feed on all kinds of invertebrates and vertebrates and they also enjoy large amounts of plants in their diet. They’ll eat amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates (such as insects and mollusks), and even carrion.

They will also eat other turtles, typically killing them by decapitation, even though this is considered a very inefficient feeding behavior. They may also do this as a sign of being territorial.

With plants, the common snapping turtles generally eat the leaves and they also like to snack on algae.

The snapping turtle is omnivorous, so they need both animals and plants in their diets. They will accept commercial turtle pellets throughout their lives from infancy to adulthood, however, so feeding them during this time is a piece of cake!

You can also offer feeder fish such as bluegills, guppies, &killifish, insects such as centipedes, caterpillars, &bloodworms, and other proteins. Vegetation to offer them include aquatic plants such as water hyacinth and water lettuce.

They also do well on cooked lean meat. Make sure that the meat is boiled with plain water and nothing else — no seasoning or any additives. Lean meats they like include chicken and turkey but they aren’t so picky, so feel free to experiment to find your turtle’s favorites.

Alligator Snapping Turtle’s Diet

Unlike common snappers, alligator snappers are predominantly carnivorous. They also scavenge, as well as hunt. This is done mostly during the night, and alligator snappers have a camouflaged mouth and a worm-like appendage (their tongue) that they use to lure fish into their mouth.

Once a fish enters into their mouth, they close their sharp jaws and swallow them whole, impale them, or simply slice them in two! 

They eat a LOT of other turtles, with one study in Louisiana showing that other chelonians make up about 80% of their diet! They also feed on insects, crayfish, clams, worms, snakes, nails, and frogs, as well as small mammals such as muskrats, possums, armadillos, raccoons, squirrels, and nutria.

They may be predominantly carnivorous, but they do occasionally feed on plants. They’ll eat seeds, grains, nuts, stems, bark, wood, roots, tubers, and leaves.

Alligator snapping turtles may be fed with rats, chicks, mice, game fish such as bluegill and bass, cooked chicken or turkey, crayfish, freshwater minnows, live guppies, and commercial turtle food.

They also accept plant matter such as fruits, vegetables, and aquatic plants such as water hyacinth and water lettuce.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a difference between a snapping turtle and an alligator snapping turtle?

Alligator snapping turtles and common snapping turtles are distinct species with varying characteristics. They also look dramatically different. The alligator snapping turtle has a rougher appearance, with a spiky shell, while the common snapping turtle’s shell is noticeably smoother.

Each species has different geographic ranges as well. The alligator snapping turtle is limited to the southeastern United States. The range of the common snapping turtle stretches from Canada to the southern United States.

What is the strongest snapping turtle?

All species of snapping turtles are incredibly strong and have powerful jaws, capable of amputating fingers, but between the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapper, the comparison results might surprise you.

That’s because while the alligator snapping turtle is the larger turtle, the common snapper has the most force behind its bite.

A common snapping turtle bites with a force of 209 newtons, while the much fiercer-looking and larger alligator snapper only bites with 158 newtons. It’s still enough to do major damage, but the common snapper is the winner of the pair for bite force.

Just in case you’re curious – Humans have an average bite force of about 150 Newtons!

What is the largest snapping turtle in the world?

Alligator snapping turtles are the largest snappers and not only that, they are the largest freshwater turtles in the world!

How old is the oldest snapping turtle in the world?

A snapping turtle named Thunder was rumored to be about 150 years old when she died in 2016, but unfortunately, this record cannot be verified. The oldest verifiable snapping turtle, however, is likely Grace – a snapping turtle in Ontario believed to be 125 years old!


Snapping turtles are among the most interesting turtles in the world and common snapping turtles and alligator snappers are no exception. Both of these turtles have a powerful bite force, capable of amputating fingers, and causing lacerations. Both are also kept commonly as pets!

Common snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles are also similar as they both belong to the same taxonomic family (Chelydridae) and are prominent freshwater species. Both are also predators and spend most of their time underwater.

The alligator snapping turtle is much larger than the common snapping turtle, however, and more primitive looking and has a spiky shell. Because of its larger size, it is also more difficult to care for. Alligator snappers are also more carnivorous than the common snapper, as their fierce look suggests!

We hope that you’ve enjoyed our exploration of Common Snapping Turtles vs. alligator Snapping Turtles and we hope to see you again soon!

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