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What do snapping turtles eat?

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  • Snapping turtles eat fish, birds, and other small mammals.
  • Some wild snapping turtles will eat insects, worms, and green leafy vegetables.
  • Snapping turtles eat about 30 percent vegetation and the rest meat.

The common snapping turtle is one of the best-known aquatic turtles in existence, in part because of its range extending from Nova Scotia in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south. The flexibility of the snapping turtle's diet certainly plays a role in its wide geographic range and popularity as pets.

On the surface, these voracious omnivores appear to eat anything put in front of them, but their habits are a bit more complicated than initial observations might suggest.

Newly hatched snapping turtles display dietary preferences based on the first foods offered to them, but they also appear to have an innate preference for specific diets, according to a research paper in Psychonomic Science .

This combination of primacy effect and innate preference suggests that there is some degree of selective habit at play in the browsing habits of snapping turtles—but you wouldn't know it just by encountering one. Snapping turtles are opportunistic omnivores that have been known to devour just about everything in their path – but they have a distinct preference for meat.

While the common snapping turtle's diet consists of about 30 percent plant matter, the larger, more aggressive snapping turtle eats much less plant matter and is thought to be primarily carnivorous.

In both cases, snapping turtles live in ponds or other forms of brackish water—and their large size means that most animal life in snapping turtle habitats is likely to be on the menu.

Prey range in size from small invertebrates to fish and amphibians to medium-sized mammals and birds. Snapping turtles are known to feed on carrion.

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Snapping turtles in the wild are known to feed on:

  • Aquatic plants (algae, moss, duckweed)
  • Fish (small fish, eels)
  • smaller turtle and frog
  • Birds (ducks, ducklings, geese)
  • Invertebrates (insects, crayfish, snails)
  • small mammal
what snapping turtles eat
Snapping turtles are herbivores, eating everything from aquatic plants to worms.

© AZ-Animals.com

What do snapping turtles in captivity and snapping turtles in the wild eat?

While snapping turtles in ponds will likely eat anything they come across, this isn't a practical option for snapping turtles in captivity. In captivity, turtles are only allowed to eat 2 to 3 times a week. Baby snapping turtles should be fed daily.

Live insects and worms found in pet supply stores are the most common food for snapping turtles in captivity, but they can also be fed lean meats like raw chicken and turkey.

Both snapping turtles and snapping turtles in captivity should include green leafy vegetables in their diet. Some owners choose to feed their turtles specially formulated pellets instead of raw food.

Snapping turtles in captivity have been known to eat the following foods:

  • Insects (crickets, grasshoppers)
  • worm
  • Crustaceans (ghost shrimp, crayfish)
  • Fish (small fish, guppies)
  • Raw lean meat (turkey or chicken)
  • Aquatic plants (duckweed, moss)
  • Green leafy vegetables (mustard, lettuce)

How do snapping turtles forage?

Common snapping turtles mostly live in ponds or streams with salt water, while snapping turtles tend to prefer clearer freshwater habitats. But these are nocturnal and entirely aquatic hunters.

Their nightly patrols for food often include walking along the bottom of streams or lakes where they live in search of prey. While young snapping turtles typically take a proactive approach to finding prey, older members of the species have learned to be more patient.

As ambush predators, adult snapping turtles bury themselves almost completely in the sand, waiting for prey to emerge. They also have an appealing – if unusual – allure. The snapping turtle's tongue is like a worm — it's an effective way of delivering prey directly to the turtle's beak when it's the only thing visible above the sand surface.

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Despite their apparent slowness, these turtles can sprint with incredible speed and power. The 200-plus Newtons of force they exert while chewing is usually overkill—and the most typical way to dismember larger prey is to simply decapitate them.

what snapping turtles eat
A snapping turtle on the road. Snapping turtles sometimes prey on smaller snapping turtles.

© Sista Vongjintanaruks/Shutterstock.com

What animals eat snapping turtles?

The combination of large size, hard shell, and powerful jaws make snapping turtles an unattractive food choice for most predators. Common snapping turtles are sometimes killed by larger snapping turtles, and American alligators and otters have been known to occasionally eat them.

There are even rare instances of adult snapping turtles being hunted by black bears. Fortunately, their ambush tactics as predators also help protect them from predators.

Snapping turtle hatchlings and eggs are obviously more at risk from predation, while hatchlings find themselves vulnerable to both water and land threats. Large fish such as pike and bass, water snakes such as cottonmouth, and mammals such as mink, raccoons and foxes all pose threats to baby turtles.

Snapping turtle eggs and hatchlings are also sometimes eaten by other snapping turtles, great blue herons, and even some predatory fish such as largemouth bass. However, as snapping turtles age, they become less and less vulnerable.

But for adults and babies, the greatest threat may be humans. Both crocodiles and common snapping turtles are often taken from their habitats to be sold as pets. Snapping turtles are even facing population declines due to demand for snapping turtle meat.

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what snapping turtles eat
what snapping turtles eat

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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is a snapping turtle's favorite food?

Snapping turtles in the wild will eat anything put in front of them, but they also show an innate preference for certain food sources. In particular, members of the species seem to prefer smaller fish such as goldfish and minnows.

What human food can snapping turtles eat?

If you can eat it, chances are your snapping turtle can too. Green leafy vegetables such as lettuce and kale are a great source of nutrition for baby or adult snapping turtles, and they are not picky eaters when it comes to meat. Shrimp, fish, and even poultry like chicken and turkey can be a healthy part of a snapping turtle's diet.

What can I feed wild snapping turtles?

Just because wild snapping turtles can eat almost anything doesn't mean they should. Human food is generally unhealthy for them as it is not a natural part of their environment, especially baby turtles can become dependent on humans for survival.

Do snapping turtles eat fruit?

Snapping turtles don't generally encounter fruit in the wild, but many pet turtles consider them a delicacy. It is best to feed them in moderation, as fruit tends to be less nutritionally efficient for snapping turtles than other foods.

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