How do you feed a baby snapping turtle?

Baby snapping turtles should be fed small amounts of commercial turtle food, feeder fish, worms, and shrimp every day using long feeding tongs.

As cute as they may be, overfeeding your new pet turtle can cause serious health problems down the road. Getting the proper nutrition during the first year is crucial for your snapping turtle’s growth and development.

In this post, I’ll cover everything you need to know about feeding baby snapping turtles, from what food sources provide the proper nourishment to how much and how often you should be feeding your tiny turtle.

You’ll also learn some common mistakes to avoid so your snapping turtle hatchling stays happy and healthy as it grows.

How do you feed a baby snapping turtle?

Baby snapping turtles should be fed a varied omnivorous diet every day, including commercial turtle food, small feeder fish, earthworms, crickets, shrimp, and aquatic plants.

Only provide them with what they will eat in 10-15 minutes, removing any uneaten food to maintain water quality. Use long feeding tongs for safety and feed in a separate container from their habitat.

Limit feedings to 1-2 pellets of turtle food plus a small amount of an alternate protein source, depending on their age. Ensure the habitat stays warm with proper lighting and filtration as well so they can digest their food.

What Do Baby Snapping Turtles Eat?

Baby snapping turtles are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. Their diet in the wild consists of:

  • Small fish and tadpoles
  • Aquatic insects
  • Aquatic vegetation
  • Decaying plant matter
  • Carrion from dead animals

When caring for a baby snapping turtle in captivity, it’s best to try to mimic this diverse diet as much as possible.

Commercial Turtle Foods

There are some commercial turtle foods available that can provide a balanced omnivorous diet for baby snapping turtles. These foods contain plant and animal proteins as well as vitamins and minerals snappers need.

Look for high-quality turtle foods explicitly made for hatchlings or juveniles. Avoid any foods that contain only plant matter or animal proteins. Your baby snapper needs diversity!

Alternating Protein Sources

In addition to commercial foods, you should provide your baby with alternate protein sources two or three times a week. Excellent options include:

  • Small feeder fish or fish chunks (thawed frozen fish can work too)
  • Earthworms
  • Small feeder crickets
  • Brine shrimp
  • Mealworms
  • Bloodworms

It’s essential to give your baby snapping turtle some variation in its protein sources to ensure it gets all the nutrients it requires. The exact amounts to feed are covered next.

How Much and How Often to Feed?

Overfeeding is an easy trap to fall into with baby snapping turtles. Because they are small and cute, our instincts tell us to give them lots of treats.

However, guidelines should be followed to prevent obesity and health problems. Here are some general rules of thumb:

Hatchlings (Under three months)

  • Feed every day
  • At each feeding, give the following:
  • 1-2 pellets of commercial turtle food
  • Plus a small amount of alternate protein (a few pieces of earthworm, 2-3 small feeder fish, etc.)

Juveniles (3 months – 1 year)

  • Feed every other day
  • At each feeding, give:
  • 2-3 pellets of commercial turtle food
  • Plus, a small amount of alternate protein

How Much is Too Much?

An excellent general guideline is to feed only what your baby snapper will eat within 10-15 minutes. Their eyes are often more significant than their stomachs when offered yummy treats like feeder fish.

Any uneaten food should be removed after 15 minutes, as decaying food fouls the water quality.

Feed Baby Snappers in a Separate Container

It’s best practice to move your baby snapping turtle to a small feeding container or tank for any supplemental feedings beyond their regular commercial turtle food.

Why feed them separately? Two main reasons:

1. Water Quality

Feeding in the habitat tank means any uneaten food remains in the enclosure, dirtying the water. This can lead to bacterial and fungal growth.

By feeding in a separate tub, any mess stays contained.

2. Reduce Aggression

Snapping turtles can become aggressive around food. Separate feedings prevent territorial attacks on tank mates.

ALSO READ:  How Do You Survive A Snapping Turtle Bite?

Use Feeding Tongs

One final rule for feeding your baby snapper: Always use long feeding tongs!

Even as babies, snapping turtles can give a severe nip. They have poor eyesight and may mistake your fingers for food.

Feeding tongs allow you to offer protein sources safely without the risk of catching baby turtle teeth!

What NOT to Feed Baby Snapping Turtles?

Now that proper diet is covered, it’s also important to know what NOT to feed. Certain foods can make baby turtles very sick. Avoid:

FoodReason to Avoid
Hamburger / Ground BeefHigh in fat, which can cause obesity. Also the risk of bacterial contamination.
Hot DogsHigh in fat, salt, and preservatives that are unhealthy.
PorkRisk of bacterial contamination from parasites like trichinosis.
Citrus FruitsToo acidic for a baby turtle’s sensitive digestive system.

Reptiles have very different dietary needs than humans. It may be tempting to share a tasty treat, but some human foods pose health issues for baby turtles. Stick to the commercial diets and alternate proteins covered earlier for a balanced, nutritious diet.

Vitamin and Calcium Supplements

In addition to a proper diet, many turtle keepers recommend dusting food items with vitamin and calcium supplements 1-2 times a week.

As babies grow, they need extra calcium and D3 for proper bone and shell development. A light supplement sprinkling provides added nutrition.

Ask your exotic vet to recommend appropriate turtle supplements and dosages based on your baby snapper’s size and age.

Providing Proper Feeding Environments

Creating the right feeding environment is just as crucial as choosing healthy diet items. Baby snapping turtles should be comfortable, safe, and free of stress at mealtimes.

Here are some critical considerations for setup:

Provide a Proper Habitat

The habitat environment directly impacts your baby turtle’s feeding behavior and health. Be sure you have:

  • Adequately sized tank with 10 gallons per inch of shell length
  • Proper temperature of 75-85°F
  • A basking area with a heat lamp and ambient temperature of 90°F
  • UVB lighting on a cycle mimicking daylight
  • Powerful filtration system & monthly partial water changes
  • Hiding spots and terrain elements like plants and rocks

Proper habitat conditions reduce turtle stress and promote healthy feeding/digestion. Consult our care guides for details on setting up the ideal snapper habitat.

Low Water Levels

When feeding in a separate container, only provide enough water just to cover your baby turtle’s lower shell.

Why minimal water? To prevent food items from sinking out of reach. Making retrieval difficult can overstress your snapper.

Avoid Distractions

Choose a quiet feeding area away from high-traffic spots in your home, loud noises, TVs, radios, or other pets.

Distractions can frighten baby turtles, causing them to ignore their food entirely.

Have Multiple Tubs Available

If feeding worms, crickets, or messy foods, have a backup “feeding tub” available.

After your baby finishes eating, promptly move it to the clean tub so it doesn’t sit in dirty, bacteria-ridden water.

This quick tub swap keeps your turtle happy and healthy!

Common Feeding Problems in Baby Snappers

Understanding potential feeding issues helps you identify and address problems early. Here are some to keep on the radar:

Not Eating

It will take some trial and error to discover your baby’s favorite foods. If they ignore certain items, try different proteins until you find the ones that spark feeding interest.

However, a baby turtle refusing all food types could signal an underlying health issue. Consult an exotic vet if appetite loss persists beyond 2-3 days.


As discussed earlier, overfeeding is unfortunately familiar with baby snapping turtles. Limit feedings to specified amounts, regardless of begging behavior.

Remove uneaten food after 15 minutes and stick to appropriate feeding frequencies for your snapper’s age.

Improper Digestion

Without proper temperatures and UVB light, baby turtles cannot correctly digest even healthy foods.

Signs of trouble include lack of appetite, weight loss, changes in stool, puffy eyes, lethargy, and a generally unwell appearance.

Review husbandry and habitat factors if you suspect improper digestion. An exotic vet can provide diagnosis and treatment recommendations for any imbalances.

Shell Deformities

Insufficient calcium and vitamin D3 can cause metabolic bone disease (MBD), where the shell grows unevenly.

Supplement foods 1-2 times weekly to provide extra nutrition for proper shell development. Deformities that are present early are the most straightforward to correct.

Weaning Juvenile Snappers off Live Foods

As tiny hatchlings, baby snapping turtles often show the most excellent feeding response to live foods like small feeder fish. Their hunting instincts are strong!

However, as they grow into juveniles, it’s important to slowly wean them onto alternate protein sources like earthworms, shrimp, etc.

Why transition away from live vertebrate foods? Two reasons:

1. Bites Worsening with Age

An adult snapper’s powerful jaws can severely injure a keeper’s hand. It is best to minimize nipping risk early by using invertebrate foods that require tongs for feeding.

2. Support Health/Growth

A varied omnivorous diet provides balanced nutrition for the crucial juvenile growth phase. Relying solely on live fish fails to deliver needed dietary diversity.

Check with an exotic vet on the best age/size to begin transitioning your juvenile’s protein sources if uncertain.

Baby Snapping Turtle: Basics And Care Guide


Properly feeding your baby snapping turtle takes some research and planning. From providing diverse proteins to limiting overfeeding and creating stress-free environments, many factors impact your snapper’s growth and health.

Pay close attention to your baby turtle’s appetite, food favorites, and any changes across seasons. Adjust your feeding techniques as needed to support its ongoing nutritional needs.

With appropriate care guidance from your exotic vet, creating the right feeding regime helps ensure your baby snapping turtle thrives through each life stage into a hardy, happy adult!

My name is Shayan Mondal, and I am a passionate turtle owner and enthusiast who enjoys sharing my knowledge and experience with fellow turtle lovers. As a proud owner of several turtle species, I understand the importance of proper care, habitat setup, and nutrition for these delightful creatures. This website regularly updates the latest insights into turtle health, diet, and conservation efforts.

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