What is the proper way to hold a snapping turtle?

When encountering a snapping turtle, the question often arises – what is the proper way to hold a snapping turtle? With their powerful jaws and swift reflexes, snappers can inflict severe bites if mishandled.

This blog post will provide a step-by-step guide on the safest technique for holding a snapping turtle based on using distraction, secure shell grips, proper lifting angles, swift transport, and gentle release.

By following these critical steps while wearing thick gloves and protective clothing, a snapping turtle can be handled and relocated without undue harm or stress to humans or the turtle.

What is the proper way to hold a snapping turtle?

The proper way to hold a snapping turtle is:

  1. Wear thick protective gloves and clothing. Snapping turtles have powerful bite force that can easily amputate fingers.
  2. Use a stick to tap the turtle’s head and divert its attention away from you before trying to pick it up. Never approach from the front.
  3. Firmly grip the top back edge of the turtle’s shell behind its head with one hand. This secures the head from reaching backward.
  4. Slide the other hand palm up beneath the belly near the back legs to support some weight.
  5. In one smooth motion, lift the turtle forward at a 45-degree angle instead of straight up. This helps prevent the head from flailing.
  6. Quickly but steadily transport the turtle to its release point. Gently lower the turtle forward-angled to allow it to crawl forward easily when released.

With proper preparation and following this controlled lift and carry technique, a snapping turtle can be safely handled and moved away from roads or human interaction when necessary.

Importance of Proper Handling

It’s crucial to learn the proper technique for handling snapping turtles. Improper handling can result in severe bites and injuries.

Snapping turtles have extremely muscular jaws and a bite force of up to 1,000 pounds per square inch – enough to easily amputate human fingers and toes.

Additionally, a startled or stressed turtle is more likely to release a musk that irritates human eyes, nose, and throat.

This thick white substance emitting from its musk glands can cause respiratory distress if inhaled near the turtle’s cloaca.

By using the proper handling technique, you can move or relocate a snapping turtle safely with minimal risk to either party.

Taking the time to handle the animal gently and supportively can make all the difference. Rushing the process or handling it too roughly often leads to defensive bites.

Preparation for Handling

Before attempting to pick up a common snapping turtle, ensure you have the right attire and mindset:


  • Sturdy gloves that cover the fingers and hand
  • Long sleeves and pants to protect the forearms/legs
  • Closed-toe shoes/boots in case the turtle presses down on feet
  • Eye protection like shatterproof glasses


  • Patience and calmness
  • Confidence balanced with caution
  • Commitment to gentle control

It’s also crucial to size up the turtle first. A larger and older snapper has a more extended reach and faster reflexes. Never attempt to pick up a massive turtle unless you have professional training.

Finally, have a plan for where you will relocate the turtle after handling.

Turtles get highly stressed when held upside down for too long. Know where the release point will be before grabbing.

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

Step-by-Step Guide to Proper Handling

Follow these steps for safe and effective handling technique:

1. Approach Slowly

Move quietly and steadily toward the snapper’s location. Sudden movements can startle the turtle, causing it to flee or bite reflexively.

Carefully observe the turtle’s reactions as you approach. If it hisses or opens its mouth, pause your approach.

2. Distract the Head

While the snapper’s head is extending, use a stick, branch, or other tool to gently tap or nudge its front. This should orient its head away from you. The goal is to keep its attention focused forward as you handle it.

3. Grasp the Shell Behind the Head

With one hand, take a firm hold of the top back edge of the shell behind the turtle’s head. Your hand placement should secure the shell just before it starts to curve down.

4. Support the Lower Shell with Second Hand

Carefully slide your second hand, palm-up, underneath the turtle’s belly near its back legs. Let the turtle rest on this lower hand while gripping the shell securely with the top hand.

5. Lift in a Forward Motion

In one smooth motion, lift the turtle forward and slightly down towards the ground at a 45-degree angle. Raising it directly upwards increases stress and causes the head to flail backward. Moving it forward helps the turtle feel supported.

6. Transport and Release

With a sturdy hold from step 4, transport the turtle quickly and directly to the planned release point. Gently set the turtle down, angled slightly forward. Be prepared to withdraw hands swiftly in case of bites.

By following this controlled technique, a snapping turtle can be transported away from danger and human activity without causing undue stress or injury.

Dos and Don’ts of Snapping Turtle Handling

Refer to this quick reference table of dos and don’ts when handling:

Do wear thick gloves and protective clothingDon’t attempt to pick up huge, older snappers
Do scoop underneath near the back legs for supportDon’t directly approach the head without diverting
Don’t swing dangling turtles or rush handlingDon’t lift straight up; increase stress
Do transport quickly once supportedDon’t drop or fling down; it causes injury
Do gently angle the release forwardsDon’t drop or fling down; it causes injury

Common Myths and Misconceptions

Despite their fearsome reputations, snapping turtles do not attack people without provocation. Unfortunately, false beliefs persist about the hazards they pose.

Here are some common myths and realities:

Myth: Snappers will chase people who get too close.

Reality: Snappers retreat into water or mud if given adequate space, not giving chase.

Myth: It’s OK to pick up a snapper barehanded if you avoid the head.

Reality: The massive jaw strength and flexible neck make bites to hands/fingers still highly likely.

Myth: Small turtles are safe to handle without care.

Reality: Hatchlings and juvenile snappers can still amputate digits with their small but sharp beaks.

In reality, snapping turtles pose little threat if proper space is provided and their environments are not encroached.

Understanding their defensive behaviors enables safer handling in cases when human intervention is unavoidable.

How to properly hold a Snapping turtle


Handling wild snapping turtles does require great care and should only be attempted using proper protective gear and technique.

Their powerful bite reflexes and long necks allow them to twist and reach fingers/toes even with rear-shell handling.

Paying attention to crucial preparation and controlled lifting technique ensures minimal risk to the handler and turtle during transportation.

With calm and committed handling, snappers and other threats can be safely removed from roads. This allows the species to be both respected and conserved.

Here are some commonly asked questions and answers about properly holding snapping turtles:

Why is it essential to hold a snapping turtle correctly?

Holding a snapping turtle properly is crucial for safety. Their powerful jaws can easily amputate human fingers or toes if mishandled. Using the proper technique helps prevent defensive bites.

What kind of gloves and clothes should you wear?

Thick protective gloves that fully cover fingers and hands are essential, along with long sleeves/pants. Closed-toe shoes are also crucial in case the turtle presses down during handling.

How do you safely approach and pick up a snapping turtle?

Always divert its attention away from you first by gently tapping the head with a stick before approaching. Grip the back of the shell behind the head with one hand. Slide the other hand beneath the belly for support.

What is the best way to lift and move a snapping turtle?

In one smooth motion, lift the turtle slightly forwards and downwards at a 45-degree angle. Never lift them straight upwards. Carry them quickly but steadily to the release point.

Should you swing or dangle a snapping turtle when moving it?

No. This stresses them and risks defensive bites. Support body weight by carrying the turtle close to the ground despite having heavy gear.

How should you release the turtle after transporting it?

Gently lower the turtle forward at an angle so it can crawl out using its front legs without tipping upside down. Be ready to swiftly remove your hands in case it snaps.

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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