13 Facts About Alligator Snapping Turtles

Whether you love or hate alligator snapping turtles, there’s one thing you can’t deny about them: they are fascinating and unique reptiles.

To showcase this exact point, today we will discuss the 13 most impressive facts about alligator snapping turtles, some of which you may not be aware of.

Here we go:

1. Grow Pretty Large

Alligator snapping turtles can grow quite large, despite not looking like it. Males are larger and can reach 30 inches in size, which may not seem much until you try to lift one off the ground.

And realize you’re struggling to budge a 250-pound animal. Females are considerably smaller, though, only getting to 20 inches in length and a measly 60-pound weight overall.

The snapping turtle’s maximum size and growth rate depend on several factors, genetics, and food availability being the most important ones.

The turtle’s full-size potential and overall ferocity (these turtles are extremely aggressive) place the animal at the top of the local food chain with virtually no predators.

Most predators only consume turtle eggs, hatchlings, and juveniles, since these are considerably more manageable than the 200-pound monster that they will eventually become.

2. Have a Long Lifespan

The truly fascinating aspect here is that we don’t even know how long alligator snapping turtles can live. Some turtles have been observed to reach 30-40 years in the wild and up to 70 years in captivity, but the reptile’s true potential is currently unknown.

Based on the current understanding of the turtle’s physiology, it is estimated that snapping turtles can reach or even exceed 100 years of age in ideal conditions and with top genetics.

This makes them great options as pets since they can last for generations and essentially become family members.

Untrustworthy family members, though, because you can never fully trust an animal that can snap your fingers with one swipe of its beak.

3. Lives in Water

Alligator snapping turtles live in an almost exclusive aquatic ecosystem, and they rarely go on land. They can also hold their breath for extended periods of time, often up to 50 minutes.

This allows the turtles to hide from predators and use the cover of the underwater layout to stalk their prey.

Keep in mind that alligator snapping turtles can swim fast and hunt and eat while underwater.

They won’t hunt humans specifically, but they are notoriously violent, especially toward limbs swimming around them in the murky waters they reside in.

4. Unique Appearance

There’s no way you can ever mistake the alligator snapping turtle for any other turtle species. It’s enough to spot the reptile once, and its image will remain with you forever.

Alligator snapping turtles have small shells covered with rows of pyramid-shaped cones that make the animal virtually impervious to attacks.

The head is very short but very large, completely disproportionate to the body. The turtle also possesses an obscenely large mouth with a powerful and sharp beak capable of bone-breaking pressure.

The limbs are short but feature large, sharp, and slightly curved claws that can rip through flesh with ease. Snapping turtles also have impressively long and powerful tails to help them during swimming.

Despite what some might qualify as a funny look, your staring at a deadly predator that doesn’t discriminate when it comes to choosing its prey.

This turtle is so vicious that it can even attack and kill animals that it cannot ultimately eat.

5. Expert in Camouflage

The turtle’s camouflaging abilities have no intent behind them, in the sense that the turtle doesn’t camouflage itself intentionally.

Instead, its camouflaging capabilities are Nature-given, and they are mostly related to the coloring and the shell’s structure and texture.

Most turtles are muddy-brown, while others are completely black, both colors being able to camouflage the turtle perfectly in its natural habitat.

The shell also helps tremendously in this sense. The pyramid-like structures, along with their rough texture, collect algae and dead plant matter from the environment, essentially turning the turtle almost invisible.

Over time, the plant matter attached to the shell will mineralize, altering the animal’s appearance even more and making it very difficult to detect. Which is bad news for this hunter’s natural prey.

6. Powerful Bite

Alligator snapping turtles can deliver power bites measuring up to 1,000 psi (pounds per square inch). To give you an idea of what that means, consider the fact that humans can only exert bite power values up to 160 psi.

The bite force itself wouldn’t be as concerning if the animal’s mouth wouldn’t be such a deadly trap, to begin with.

Snapping turtles have razor-sharp jaws with piercing beaks that can amputate and crush almost any living creature. The turtle’s obscene jaw strength isn’t random but an evolutionary feature that explains the animal’s feeding pattern.

Snapping turtles feed primarily on hard-shelled animals like crayfish, clams, and carrion (bones and all), among other things.

They also use their jaws as their main defense mechanism, which, when combined with the reptile’s lightning-speed neck extension, turn the head into a deadly piston with scalpel-like amputation potential.

It’s not uncommon for an adult snapping turtle to sever fingers and crush bones with one instant bite, so give the reptile the respect it deserves.

7. Carnivorous Diet

Alligator snapping turtles are the only turtles qualifying as almost exclusively carnivorous. Interestingly enough, they have also been observed to eat some vegetation in the wild, but this is very rare, almost unheard of.

The turtle’s main diet consists of live prey like fish, mollusks, frogs, clams, and essentially anything with protein and fat, no matter how large, hard, or hard to catch.

They can also consume carrion, including large animal carcasses, thanks to their ability to use their beak and claws to rip slices of flesh and eat them whole.

More interestingly, alligator snapping turtles have an amazing appetite, compared to other reptiles, with adults requiring at least one meaty meal per day.

8. Only Attacks When Threatened

Despite their extreme aggression, snapping turtles prefer to avoid confrontation and will only attack if threatened. Make no mistake, though, this turtle is not one to avoid conflicts if conflicts come its way.

The alligator snapping turtle is perfectly equipped to handle most attackers, thanks to its sheer size and force, biting power, and ability to deliver lightning-fast hits.

It’s best to keep your distance.

9. Hard to Keep as Pets

Despite their apparent adaptability, resilience, and low requirements, alligator snapping turtles are actually quite difficult to keep as pets.

There are multiple reasons for that, such as:

  • Enclosure size – Are you ready for this one? Alligators snapping turtles require an enclosure of at least 200 gallons in size. However, this is the minimum acceptable for the smallest adult snapping turtle you can find. A 25-28-inch adult will most likely demand a 600-800-gallon setup to thrive, and this isn’t even optional. This fact alone deters most snapping turtles from committing to a specimen.
  • The overall care – Imagine having to maintain and clean an 800-gallon setup and change the water weekly, or however often is necessary. Weekly sounds about right, though, given that snapping turtles are messy eaters and produce a lot of poop.
  • The varied diet – Alligator snapping turtles quire a varied diet to stay healthy over the years. You need to provide them with multiple food items that you need to cycle daily.
  • The layout – While snapping turtles don’t use the land too often, they still need to get out occasionally to warm up and rest. So, you need to set up a mixed ecosystem that should consist of around 80% water and 20% land. Which is even more difficult to achieve and maintain.
  • The long lifespan – You would say that the fact that snapping turtles can live for decades is a good thing, at it is in most cases. But the turtle’s long lifespan can also become a detriment simply because the animal requires a decade-long commitment. If you’re not up to such a sacrifice, you’re better off avoiding the animal, to begin with.

These points should sum up the problem quite nicely.

10. Unique Hunting Technique

Snapping turtles are as mischievous as they are deadly. These reptiles use their tongue for hunting, which is a fairly unique feature in the reptile world.

In short, snapping turtles possess a very narrow, small, red, and wiggly tongue that, for all intents and purposes, looks exactly like a worm.

The turtle’s main hunting technique involves keeping its mouth open underwater and moving its tongue frantically.

This attracts the attention of any worm-eating animal swimming nearby, and the promise of a quick meal is often too irresistible.

The rest is history, as the animal approaches the turtle’s open mouth to catch the ‘worm’ and we all know what happens next. A 1,000-psi clamp is what happens.

11. Highly Adaptive

Snapping turtles are astounding adaptable, with them being able to thrive in a variety of aquatic ecosystems. You can find them in rivers, streams, swamps, marshes, and dirty and stagnant waters.

They can also adapt to a captive lifestyle with ease, provided they’re getting the right care, diet, and proper vet assistance in case of disease or parasites.

This impressive adaptability is what lies at the heart of the animal’s resilience over the years. It’s also what allows it to survive in a human-driven world where its habitat gets smaller and changes with every passing day.

12. Illegal to Collect in Some States

Despite the reptile’s unmatched adaptability and resilience, the turtle is still struggling with habitat destruction, exploitation, fragmentation, and poaching.

The turtle is hunted for trophies and as part of the illegal pet trade, which eventually forced the animal on the list of vulnerable species in some states.

This means that it is illegal to trade or own a snapping turtle in states like Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, and the list might not stop here.

Discuss your intentions to acquire a pet snapping turtle with the local wildlife authorities to make sure you’re in the clear.

You may need a special permit in some states, as well as proof that you can provide the reptile with ideal living conditions and proper care over the years.

13. Delayed Sexual Maturity

Alligator snapping turtles only reach sexual maturity at the age of at least 12 years old.

This is one reason why the turtle’s conservation status is changing for the worst with each passing day.


There’s no doubt that alligator snapping turtles are some of the most astounding and unique reptiles you can find in the wild and today’s listicle proves it.

Hopefully, you now have a newfound respect for one of the deadliest and most fascinating turtles in the world.

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...