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Are Snapping Turtles Dangerous? What You Need to Know!

Nicole Cosgrove

Prehistoric in their appearance, snapping turtles have a somewhat aggressive look. However, in reality, they are docile creatures that have little to do with people and are not considered dangerous unless they are disturbed.

Swimmers can easily avoid them, and as long as your dog doesn’t aggressively approach the turtle, they should be safe from being bitten, too.

There are no known instances of snapping turtles killing people, although there are very rare cases of biting chunks of flesh off, with most incidents occurring out of the water, when the turtle feels most vulnerable.

divider-turtleSnapping Turtle Overview

Snapping turtles have an aggressive-sounding name and both species, the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle, look prehistoric. They are also predators, which means that they have been given the physical tools to attack other animals.

While they do not have teeth, they do have a mouth that is shaped like a strong, solid, beak. However, they conduct most of their hunting in water, where they bury themselves in the sand and wait for a predator to swim by. While they have a strong beak, their docile nature means that they are not too threatening.

Snapping turtle
Image Credit: Scottslm, Pixabay

Habitat

The snapping turtle is found in Canada and the US. In particular, it can be found in ponds and streams. They may be seen on the surface of the water, and on logs, but also spend time hiding beneath the mud and sediment at the bottom of the waterway.

They are scavengers that eat plant matter as well as some small animals. Commonly they eat fish, frogs, and some birds and mammals.

Do Snapping Turtles Attack Humans?

These reptiles have a somewhat negative reputation for being detrimental to the population of breeding waterfowl and for attacks on humans.

In reality, they rarely predate young waterfowl, although it certainly isn’t unheard of.

There is also little evidence of snapping turtles attacking humans. They have the beak to cause injury but there has never been a single case of this species of reptile killing a human, and there are very few recorded cases of them attacking humans.

Snapping turtles are not aggressive, so will only attack if they feel threatened or exposed. This is most likely to happen when the animal is on land. They feel more comfortable in the water, where they spend most of their life and where they are agile and comfortable moving around.

Snapping Turtle_ Sista Vongjintanaruks_Shutterstock
Image credit: Sista Vonjintanaruks, Shutterstock

Are Snapping Turtles Dangerous to Swimmers?

Snapping turtle attacks are most common on land. They are agile and highly skilled swimmers. As such, if they see a person approaching, they are more than capable of swimming away or burying themselves under the earth at the bottom of the water. This means that the snapping turtle is highly unlikely to attack swimmers.

Are Snapping Turtles Dangerous to Dogs?

The reptile is less comfortable on land. They are not fast movers and while they can use their sharp claws to dig, it is not necessarily their best course of defensive action. Therefore, if a turtle feels threatened or exposed, and it cannot see a way of getting away, it may attack. Because dogs are inquisitive and quick, they are more inclined to approach a snapping turtle on land. They are also quicker than people, though, so are less likely to get bitten.

Snapping Turtle open mouth_ Sista Vongjintanaruks_Shutterstock
Image credit: Sista Vongjintanaruks, Shutterstock

Snapping Turtle Safety Tips

There are some tips you can follow to prevent being bitten:

  • Stay Away – The single most effective way of ensuring that you do not get bitten or scratched by this reptile is not avoid them. If you know that snapping turtles are on a particular stretch of water, move further away. If you see them on land near water, watch from a reasonable distance and don’t get too close.
  • Don’t Startle Them – If you see a snapping turtle in the water, avoid swimming up to it without warning. Although they can usually get away when in water, you might catch one by surprise. Similarly, avoid making loud noises. Quietly move away to ensure that the snapping turtle does not view you or treat you as a threat.
  • Don’t Corner Them – Don’t back a turtle into a corner, especially if it is on dry land. Its first instinct will be to swim or try to scurry away from you, rather than stay and bite, but if it can’t get away, it will resort to biting if necessary.
  • Approach From the Side – Another way to ensure that you don’t corner or startle a snapping turtle is to approach it from the side. Turtles have the best view of you when at the side, whereas they may not be able to see or hear you if you approach from behind. They will also be able to view their surroundings and spot a safe route to run, if they need to.
  • Do Not Grab the Sides – With most turtles, the best way to pick them up is by holding the sides of the shell, but this is not the right approach with a snapping turtle. A snapping turtle is able to turn its head and bite you, and it has sharp enough claws to scratch you, from this position. If you must move a snapping turtle, for example to get it out of a dangerous position on a highway, lift its shell by the back and wheelbarrow it to the side of the road.
  • Avoid Their Hiding Places – The shallow parts of ponds and lakes, as well as rivers, are where snapping turtles are most commonly found. If you know that there are turtles in the area, avoid the shallow sections of the waterway because this is where they are likely to bury themselves under the silt or soil to hide out of the way.

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Are Snapping Turtles Dangerous?

Snapping turtles are capable of biting, although they are more likely to scratch or wee on you, and even more likely to scurry or swim away to safety. However, one might try to bite you if it feels threatened or cornered. Avoid putting a snapping turtle in this kind of position, and you should be perfectly safe. Similarly, ensure that your kids or dogs do not give the snapping turtle reason to be afraid.


Feature Image Credit: Sebartz, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.