Training a turtles to stop biting is possible with some techniques. Different turtles have different temperaments. Some turtles are aggressive (or should I say defensive as these only attack when they feel threatened) and others are meek, choosing to retract into their shells when scared.
Aggressive species such as snapping turtles, and softshell turtles are more likely to bite you if you get too close or pick them up.
So can you train your turtle to stop biting? The answer here is – it depends. The reason for the bites play a huge factor in whether or not you can train the turtle to stop biting.
How To Train Your Turtle To Stop Biting Your Finger
If you have a nonaggressive species such as sliders, box turtles, cooters, or map turtles, then this turtle normally does not bite. There are several reasons why such meek turtles will bite.
Reasons Why Turtles Bite And What Can Be Done About It
Here are some reasons why your turtle may bite you.
They Are Wild-Caught Turtles
Wild-caught turtles aren’t used to human presence and are very nervous and stressed around humans. This stress is often expressed as aggression. As such wild-caught box turtles, map turtles, and others will bite because human presence is seen as a threat. To avoid this, you should try as hard as possible to only keep captive-bred turtles.
These specimens have been around humans ever since they hatched. They are comfortable around humans and generally do not bite.
If you have an adult wild-caught turtle, it is almost impossible to readjust its nature and habit of biting you. However, with care and dedication, the turtle will come to be more comfortable around you and may even stop biting you.
Do not feed such a turtle with your hand. You can leave their food on their plate or in the water (if the species can only eat in water). You can also use feeding tongs/tweezers to feed them.
When you feed the turtle with your fingers, it comes to associate your fingers with food and may bite your fingers for that reason.
They Think Your Fingers Are Food
One of the main reasons why pet captive-bred turtles bite is because they think your fingers are food. This happens when they have been hand-fed for quite some time now. It gets to a point where they will still bite your fingers even if you have no food in them. This can be irritating for beginners as these nibbles can be quite painful.
Here prevention is better than cure. If you do not want your turtle to associate your fingers with food, then do not feed them with your fingers. That way they know that your fingers aren’t food. For many, feeding is the best way they get to bond with their turtles.
While turtles are much more solitary creatures, they love to eat. When they get to know you are their source of food, they will rush enthusiastically to you and eagerly await food from you.
This attention and love mean that dropping their food onto a plate or into the water isn’t fun or engaging for most turtle lovers. However, feeding them with your hands will have them come to view your fingers as food.
Most turtle owners do not mind the nibbles. Although they can be painful for the most part, they do not draw blood.
To prevent the turtle from biting your fingers, you can decide to not feed them with your fingers. If the turtles have never been hand-fed, they won’t see the singers as food.
There isn’t much to do here. Turtles cannot be trained like dogs or even cats. However, you can stop feeding them with your hands. If you still wish to have an engaging feeding session without having your fingers nibbled, you can feed them using tongs. I recommend wooden and plastic tongs over metallic tongs as the chances of injuries are less with wooden and plastic tongs. However, steel tongs are also very popular tools for feeding turtles.
They May Be Naturally Aggressive
Just like dogs or cats, turtles have distinct personalities. While some turtles may be shy, others may be aggressive.
Even within the same species, some individuals can be meek while other individuals may be aggressive. This is true for even gentle species such as the common box turtle and the three-toed box turtle.
Some species such as alligator snapping turtle, common snapping turtle, smooth softshell turtle, and the spiny softshell turtle are aggressive by nature. These turtles are prone to biting and their bites can be very dangerous. Snapping turtles have been known to bite off fingers. Softshell turtles can also easily lacerate the skin and cause excessive bleeding.
With turtles that are aggressive by nature, there is little you can do to stop them from biting you. However, if they are captive-bred, they will be less prone to biting. With these aggressive species, I don’t recommend that you hand feed them unless you want to lose a finger or two.
Avoid touching snapping turtles and softshells unless you have to.
The Turtle May Be Threatened Or Territorial
Sometimes, a turtle may be territorial. Entering their personal space will trigger a response. Such a turtle will try to bite your finger when you try to change the filter, clean the enclosure among others. The turtle may also be scared of you.
Most turtles will warm up to you after a while. Most adult pet turtles are tame and do not bite. With species such as sliders, cooters, box turtles, and others, once they get to know you well, they will stop biting you. In this case, just give it time. However, it is important to remember that some turtles are simply territorial and may never stop biting.
Can You Train A Turtle To Not Bite Your Finger?
The best way to train your turtle to not bite your finger is to not hand feed it. If you hand feed a turtle it will come to view your fingers as food. Beyond that, there is little else you can do.
Captive-bred turtles are less prone to bite and most species kept as pets are also less aggressive towards humans. Also, if the turtle is new, then it may take a while to warm up to you.
Some turtles are just more welcoming than others.
Why Do Turtles Bite?
The turtle may see your fingers as food. Also, some turtles do not like having their private space intruded. If the turtle sees your finger as an intruder, it is more prone to biting your fingers. The turtle may also be scared.
Most turtles will warm up to their human caretakers and allow them to place their hands in their enclosure without biting.
How Dangerous Can Turtle Bites Get?
Very few turtle species have dangerous bites. Species such as the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle are capable of breaking fingers and seriously lacerating your skin. Softshells can also break the skin and draw blood.
While other species have painful bites, they do not usually draw blood.
How Do You Treat A Turtle’s Bite?
If a turtle bit you, depending on the seriousness of the bite, you may be able to treat it yourself or you may need immediate medical attention. If the bite doesn’t lacerate the skin, then you can simply clean the bite with lukewarm water and soap. If the cut(s) is superficial, you can clean the wound under running lukewarm water (no soap), and treat the wound with antibiotics.
For serious bites with excessive bleeding or even amputations, you need to seek immediate medical attention. In other words, you need to see a doctor.
What To Do If A Turtle Bites Another Turtle?
Sometimes chelonians may bite one another instead. This could be down to many different reasons. For instance, is it mating season? If so, then the males may just be fighting over mating rights. The males will even attack and harass the females. These fights can be quite violent. Similarly, larger turtles can be territorial and constantly harass smaller turtles.
A larger tank with good hiding spots such as plants can solve this problem. If the enclosure is large enough with enough hiding spots, the turtle being attacked can hide. Also, when the enclosure is large enough, the turtles are less likely to fight.
If the males are fighting because it is mating season, it is best to keep the females away from the males.
What Are The Reasons For A Turtle Biting Itself?
Sometimes, a turtle will bite itself. This could be because the turtle is shedding or that the skin is being irritated. Shedding is perfectly normal and the turtle may just be trying to eat its shed skin.
High chlorine, ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate levels can irritate the reptile’s skin and cause it to bite itself. Make sure you use dechlorinated water and a strong filter. I recommend the Seachem Prime Fresh and Saltwater Conditioner. This can be used to dechlorinate tap water.
Adjusting the behavior of a turtle can be difficult and in some cases impossible. With that being said, captive-bred turtles are less prone to biting than wild-caught turtles are. If you want a turtle that won’t bite you then make sure that the turtle is captive-bred.
Also, some species are more prone to biting than other species are. Softshell turtles and snapping turtles are generally more aggressive than species such as box turtles, map turtles, cooters, and sliders. If you acquire a less aggressive turtle, it is less likely to bite.
Hand-feeding your turtles may also be a reason for many of the bites. When hand-fed from a juvenile age, turtles are more prone to develop the habit of biting you when your fingers are close as they associate your fingers with eating. One way to prevent such bites is to not feed them with your fingers. You can plate the food on their plates or the waters in which you feed them.
All questions and comments are welcomed. Thanks