Alligator snapping turtles as pets

Alligator Snapping Turtles as Pets: A Comprehensive Guide


Alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) are remarkable reptiles known for their prehistoric appearance and intriguing behavior. While they may seem like intriguing pets, keeping these ancient creatures requires careful consideration and expertise. In this guide, we will explore the world of alligator snapping turtles as pets, covering their care, habitat, and unique characteristics.

Understanding Alligator Snapping Turtles

Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in North America, known for their dinosaur-like appearance. These turtles can live for several decades, and it’s essential to understand their specific needs before considering them as pets.

The Legalities of Keeping Alligator Snapping Turtles

Before obtaining an alligator snapping turtle, you must be aware of the legal requirements in your area. These laws can vary widely, and some states may have bans on keeping this species as pets. Always ensure that you’re in compliance with local regulations.

Habitat and Enclosure

Alligator snapping turtles as pets
Alligator snapping turtles as pets

Tank Setup

Alligator snapping turtles need a spacious and secure enclosure to thrive. A large aquarium or stock tank is a suitable option for juvenile turtles, while adults require even more space. A 75 to 100-gallon tank is the minimum for an adult turtle, with larger tanks being preferred.

Water Quality

Maintaining high water quality is crucial. Use a reliable water filter, and ensure that the water is dechlorinated. Regular water changes are necessary to keep the environment clean and safe for your turtle.

Basking Area

Alligator snapping turtles require a basking area where they can completely leave the water. A basking platform with a heat lamp should be provided to help them regulate their body temperature.

Diet and Feeding

Omnivorous Diet

Alligator snapping turtles are opportunistic eaters, consuming a variety of food in the wild. Their diet typically consists of fish, crustaceans, amphibians, and even small mammals.

Feeding Frequency

Feed your turtle every few days, and adjust the quantity based on their size and age. Providing a variety of foods will help ensure a balanced diet. Offer both live and prepared foods to stimulate their natural hunting instincts.

Calcium and Supplements

Supplements are vital to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Dust your turtle’s food with a reptile-specific calcium supplement, and occasionally provide a multivitamin supplement as well.

Temperature and Lighting

Temperature Range

Maintaining the correct temperature is essential for the health of your alligator snapping turtle. The water temperature should be around 75-85°F (24-29°C), while the basking area should reach 90-95°F (32-35°C).

UVB Lighting

Alligator snapping turtles require UVB lighting to metabolize calcium properly. Provide a UVB lamp designed for reptiles to ensure they receive the necessary UV radiation.

Behavioral Traits

Solitary Nature

Alligator snapping turtles are solitary creatures by nature. Avoid keeping multiple turtles in the same enclosure to prevent territorial disputes and injuries.

Aggression and Handling

These turtles have a reputation for being aggressive and can deliver a painful bite. Minimize handling to reduce stress, and always approach them with caution. Do not attempt to hand-feed them.

Health and Common Issues

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections can be a common issue among alligator snapping turtles. Maintaining proper water quality and monitoring their health can help prevent this condition.

Shell Health

Inspect your turtle’s shell regularly for any signs of damage or disease. A healthy shell should be smooth and free of any deformities or discolorations.

Lifespan and Long-Term Commitment

Alligator snapping turtles can live for several decades if cared for properly. Be prepared for a long-term commitment when considering them as pets. They are not suitable for individuals seeking a short-term companion.


Alligator snapping turtles are fascinating reptiles that can be kept as pets, but they require specialized care and dedication. Before bringing one into your home, make sure you understand the legal requirements in your area and are prepared to meet their unique needs. Proper housing, a balanced diet, and a vigilant approach to health and safety are key to ensuring a happy and healthy life for your alligator snapping turtle. Always consult with a reptile veterinarian for guidance on the care of these incredible creatures.