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How To Pick Up A Snapping Turtle (Easy Guide)

If you are wondering how to pick up a snapping turtle, then you are not alone. The snapping turtle is one of the most popular turtles in the world, including species like alligator snapping turtles and common snappers, which are particularly renowned for their distinctive characteristics. As the name suggests, also the most well-known for their behavior of snapping at people that approach them.

They do this when they feel threatened, so don’t take it personally!

Still, you should be careful, as their bites can be painful and leave lacerations, and their bite is strong enough to sever fingers. The aggressive behavior of this chelonian is scary enough that some people who have to pick them up never learn to do it properly.

For instance, many people try to pick them up by the tail – a big no-no! This is dangerous for the turtle, as it puts unnecessary strain on the spinal cord and could cause permanent damage. So, how do you pick them up without hurting them or getting yourself hurt in the process?

Let’s talk about how to pick up a snapping turtle the RIGHT way so that the both of you will be safe!

Not sure if that turtle outside is a snapping turtle? Find out how to identify different turtles with our handle guide!

How to pick up an adult snapping turtle

Adult snapping turtle
An adult snapping turtle walking through the grass

Handling an adult snapping turtle, especially a large snapper like the alligator snapper or common snappers, is a challenging task and requires a good grip and understanding of safe ways to approach these large turtles. An adult snapper is HUGE – reaching a weight of about 8.8 to 35.2 lb (4 to 16 kg) for the common snapping turtles and the closely related South American or Central American snapper.

The Alligator and Suwannee snapping turtles, however, really take the cake. Weighing in a range of 9 to 176 lb (8.4 to 80 kg), these are very large, heavy turtles, and care in handling is going to be a definite MUST.

Also, be sure not to let your children attempt to lift a snapping turtle. They’re heavy and dangerous and one wrong move could lead to a painful bite and possibly a trip to the hospital. With that said, let’s go over the steps for the proper way to pick up these chelonians.

Steps

Approach The Snapper From The Back

The snapping turtle attacks with its head, where it may deliver a powerful bite force with its sharp beak. The beak is capable of causing serious injury, so this is the primary danger. The claws, surprisingly, are much less of a worry.

While they are sharp, snappers do not use them to attack or hunt. They are used to get a better grip on terrain moving and females are known to dig nests with their claws.

So, really, the head is what you need to be worried about and don’t forget that common snapping turtles have surprisingly long necks. Even if you think you have kept your distance, it’s possible that they can reach you and still bite you.

The safest approach is to handle the turtle from behind. From there, the turtle won’t notice you quickly since you are not in their direct line of sight. When approaching do so slowly, making as little noise as you can. Try your best not to spook the snapper as you approach and then we’re ready for the next step.

Lift The Turtle Up From Behind

As mentioned earlier, the snapping turtle has a long neck, so where you place your hands is going to be very important. If you try holding it by the sides or near the head, the odds are that it CAN reach out and bite you. You’ll need to lift it from the back.

Firmly grip the back of the carapace (upper shell), right above each of the hind legs ensuring you have a good hold on the sides of the shell, particularly for larger turtles like the alligator snapping turtle.

Hold it like you would a tray of food with your hands. This way you can lift the turtle safely and with relative ease while staying away from its powerful jaws.

Even though they have long necks, they cannot reach all the way back, so this will be the safest approach.

While the snapper doesn’t use their claws to attack, they are still a danger, as the turtle may accidentally scratch when you take hold and they struggle to get away. Protecting your hands and arms with gloves and a shirt or a towel will help you to avoid claw damage issues.

Here are a few general tips to help you get a better idea of proper snapper lifting technique:

  • Never lift or grab the turtle by the tail or any other body part such as the hind limbs. Grab ONLY the back half of its carapace. You can seriously injure the turtle otherwise.
  • The head of the turtle should be as far away from you as possible to avoid injuries.
  • Keep the turtle as close to the ground as you can. This way if you drop it, the turtle won’t have far to fall and will be less likely to be injured.

Helping a Wild Adult Snapper to Get to a Safe Location

If you are moving a wild snapping turtle, say one that is trying to cross the road, especially during late spring or early summer which is a common time of year for turtle crossing, it’s a great idea to use a car mat or similar object to move larger turtles, reducing the risk of painful bites.

Ideally you will want to try to move the turtle as little as possible. If it is in the middle of the road, then you should carry it to the opposite side and that’s ALL.

Ensure that you move the turtle in the same direction it is already facing so that you don’t change its course and make the turtle’s day a little more difficult. That snapping turtle knows where it is going and all you are doing is helping it along.

Moving the snapper across the road should be enough – don’t assume that you need to take it to the nearest body of water. This will help you to avoid placing the turtle somewhere that it doesn’t want to be.

Another reason that you want to avoid putting it in water is a simple one – If you’ve misidentified the turtle, you may inadvertently harm or kill it by putting it in a water body. Additionally, the water might be unclean or there could be predators in the water that might fancy a feat of turtle.

So, just get it across the road and in the original direction that it was pointing and this is for the best!

Once you place the turtle down, move away as quickly as you can. Snapping turtles are aggressive and while you’ve done a good deed, the turtle may not see it that way and may well try to bite you for your troubles!

Are you here to find out how to pick up your turtle at home? Our common snapping turtle care guide has some more information that you might find useful!

How to pick up a baby snapping turtle

Steps

Lift The Turtle with your thumb and index finger

Picking up two snapping turtle hatchlings
Picking up two snapping turtle hatchlings

Snapping turtles are tiny as babies and can be held much more easily than adults. At this age, they generally aren’t dangerous enough to cause you serious injuries with their bite, but it will still hurt and could well draw blood.

For proper handling, your index finger should be under the turtle on the plastron (the lower shell that protects the turtle’s underside) and near the hind legs. The thumb should be placed on the carapace (upper shell), also near the hind legs.

Lift the turtle in the same way you would a cookie from a plate and make sure that your fingers are near the rear and away from the turtle’s jaws. Pick the baby snapper in a pinching motion and a firm grip.

Helping a Wild Hatchling Snapper to Get to a Safe Location

If you are helping a hatchling snapping turtle across the road, then simply follow the same rules as you would with an adult. Move it as little as possible, just getting it to the other side of the road or another close safe spot, and place it down gently. Get out of the way quickly and let it go its way.

Avoid placing it in water and once you’ve left it alone, it should progress along to where it wants to go!

How to pick up a juvenile snapping turtle

During this stage, they may start exploring their home range, which sometimes leads them to cross roads and encounter oncoming vehicles.

Steps

Lift The Turtle with your thumb on the carapace and fingers on the plastron

A juvenile snapping turtle finds a tasty brown water snake
A juvenile snapping turtle finds a tasty brown water snake

Hatchlings eventually grow into juveniles and when that happens, your ‘thumb and index finger’ technique will no longer be a good option – they’re simply too large for that now. Juveniles will usually be around 5 inches in size, so instead of holding it like a cookie, hold it like a sandwich!

Before you do, however, just remember that even though it’s only a 5-inch turtle, it’s still quite capable of causing serious harm if it bites you. Handle with care!

All of your fingers should be near the hind legs, as they’re heavier than they look and may need two hands to comfortably carry it. Your thumb should be on the carapace and your fingers should be underneath the turtle.

Helping a Wild Juvenile Snapper to Get to a Safe Location

Here follow the same steps as you would if the snapper was an adult. Just help the juvenile across the street or otherwise out of immediate danger, keeping it pointed in the same direction it was originally heading.

Don’t drop it in water – the turtle could be injured or you may have misidentified it – just get it to safety and let the turtle decide what comes next!

How To Check a Wild Snapping Turtle For Injuries

When encountering an injured snapping turtle, perhaps with damage to its bottom shell or rear of the shell, it’s best to assess from a safe distance. These species of turtles, found widely across the United States, particularly in the southeastern region of the U.S., can have severe injuries.

Signs to look for include blood, a broken limb or tail, shell injuries, and even poor movement.

Causes of injuries may include attacks by other animals, falls, or even vehicular accidents.

If the turtle is injured, then you may want to get it to a wildlife rescue center. You should take note of the exact location (record it) where you found it, so that the center may eventually return the turtle back to the area it’s familiar with.

How To Transport An Injured Turtle

You can place the turtle onto a tarp or thick blanket and then pick it up that way, carefully moving it into a large carrier or other container with a tight lid and proper ventilation. Be extra careful about ensuring that ventilation – You don’t want the turtle to suffocate!

When transporting the turtle, minimize the noise as much as you can to stress it less, and do not try to give it first aid on your own. Avoid handling the turtle and do NOT provide a heat source.

Baby turtles can be placed in small containers such as shoe boxes but as before, make sure that they are well-ventilated.

For more information on transporting an injured turtle, check out these instructions from the Tufts Wildlife Clinic!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I move a snapping turtle?

There are several ways to move a snapping turtle. One method is to firmly grip the back of the carapace (upper shell) right above each of the hind legs, and hold it like you would a tray of food with both hands.

A baby snapper may be held like you would a cookie, with your fingers near the rear and away from the jaws. Place your thumb on the carapace and place your index finger on the plastron with your fingers near the rear legs, apply pressure, and lift.

Hold a juvenile the same way you would a sandwich, with the thumb on the carapace and the index finger on the plastron. Use both hands to hold the juvenile.

If you wish to move the turtle over long distances, then place it in a carrier or container with a tight lid and proper ventilation. During transport, minimize the noise around to help reduce stress, and do not handle the turtle or attempt first aid on your own. Keep it away from heat sources, as well.

Baby turtles can be placed in small containers such as shoe boxes, as long as they are well-ventilated.

How do you get a snapping turtle to let go?

If you wish to let a snapping turtle let go, then simply submerge it in water or place it under running water if you don’t have enough to submerge it. When it lets go, quickly move away!

How do you get a snapping turtle to let go?

If you wish to let a snapping turtle let go, then simply submerge it in water or place it under running water if you don’t have enough to submerge it. When it lets go, quickly move away!

Does a snapping turtle bite hurt?

The bite of the snapping turtle is about 209 Newtons, so it’s bites are very strong. They can easily cause lacerations and if the turtle is big enough, they can even sever fingers! As such, snapping turtles must always be handled responsibly and with utmost care.

Conclusion

Knowing how to pick up a snapping turtle is MUST if you own one or want to be able to help wild snappers across the road in emergencies. This knowledge is also vital for those who want pet snapping turtles or are involved in turtle rescue efforts, ensuring both your own safety and the well-being of these fascinating creatures.

Snapping turtles are aquatic and only come out of water when they need to bask or find a new aquatic habitat, but you will occasionally see them on the road.

Since they can suffer vehicular injuries, helping them across the road may very well save the turtle’s life, so just be sure to use the steps that we’ve shared today to do it safely. That way, it’s sure to be a good day for the both of you!

If you are handling a sick or injured turtle at home, be sure to check our turtle first aid guide – there is excellent information that might help!

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