Snapping turtles take a wide variety of prey (see Part I) and will accept nearly any animal-based food placed before them (hatchlings may need to be started on live blackworms and guppies, and weaned to non-living food items). However, in order to thrive, they require a variety of nutritious foods and a good deal of calcium.
Reptomin can be used as 50-75% of the diets of turtles small enough to accept it. Calcium is best supplied by offering whole fresh water fish (and crayfish and snails if available) on at least a weekly basis. Guppies, minnows, shiners and similar fish are fine. Goldfish can be used on an occasional basis, but a steady diet of these has been implicated in liver problems in other species. Marine fish (bait fish, Tilapia, etc.) are useful as an occasional treat as well. Meat table scraps are appreciated, but most of your turtle’s diet should consist of whole organisms and commercially prepared foods.
The balance of the diet should be as varied as possible – earthworms, crickets and other insects, crayfish, shrimp, freeze dried prawn, pink mice, waxworms, mealworms, etc. Snappers will also eagerly accept most frozen foods marketed for tropical fish and catfish and cichlid pellets , but such should be used as a treat, not a steady diet. Any insects you come across will be eagerly gobbled by young turtles, and will provide important dietary variety. Be sure to purchase different types of fresh water fish from your local fish market from time to time – this will be especially necessary for large turtles.
Larger animals may require unique strategies if they are to receive a balanced diet in captivity – please write in if you own a large turtle and would like some ideas.
Wild snappers may take plant material on occasion, but most captives do not. You might, however, experiment with kale, dandelion and other greens.
Snapping turtles have lived for over 40 years in captivity; the record for an alligator snapper is just over 70 years.
This is definitely a pet to observe, not handle. I’ll write about a safe technique for picking up large, aggressive turtles in the near future.
Social Groups and Breeding
Snapping turtles are best housed alone – in groups, feeding-related injuries are common and males are intolerant of each other. Small snappers can be housed with other turtles but, oddly enough, they are slow feeders at this stage and easily out-competed by other species. Larger animals will attempt to eat any and all tank-mates (I have a quite sad zoo story concerning this – please check back for future articles).
Snappers will breed in captivity if provided a cool winter period and access to a fairly deep nesting site. This requires space, but is possible – I’ll relate my own experiences in a future article. Please see Part I for notes on reproduction in the wild.
Alligator snapping turtles, Macroclemmys temmincki, are now bred commercially and available in a variety of sizes. Their husbandry follows that of the related common snapper, but there are enough fine points to warrant a separate article. Please stay tuned. Please also note that this species is among the world’s largest fresh water turtles, and may top 200 pounds in weight – hard to imagine when one contemplates buying a tiny hatchling. Please think before buying.
Keeping a snapping turtle is not easy, but can be very rewarding.