Why The Alligator Snapping Turtle Is A Bad Pet Idea

(Photo by Victor L Antunez/Creative Commons via Flickr)(Photo by Victor L Antunez/Creative Commons via Flickr)


There are many commonly available domesticated turtles that make excellent pets, including the red ear slider, ornate wood turtle and the painted turtle. These long-lived reptiles are an excellent way to enjoy a little piece of nature for the average reptile enthusiast, but then again, there’s always that one person who thinks that they need to own a “special” turtle to impress guests and to boost their own ego, such as the spectacular alligator snapping turtle.

 (Photo by melissambwilkins/Creative Commons via Flickr)(Photo by melissambwilkins/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Weighing in at an average adult weight of 200lbs and stretching out to around 26 inches from beak to tail, the alligator snapping turtle is easily the biggest freshwater turtle in North America. With its triceratops-like beak, long claws and spiky shell, these large turtles are somewhat dinosaur-like in appearance. The alligator snapper is scattered throughout marshes, swamps and lakes in the southeastern United States, ranging from Kentucky, Alabama and parts of Florida to as far north as Illinois. It is a carnivorous species that is famous for the hunting tactic of wiggling its small, pink and worm-like tongue to attract fish. When unlucky creatures get too close to the turtle’s natural lure, the beast clamps down its massive jaws onto prey with a bite force comparable to a spotted hyena’s impressive jaw strength.

 (Photo by mcwetboy/Creative Commons via Flickr)(Photo by mcwetboy/Creative Commons via Flickr)

You’ve probably realized by now that a turtle that weighs over 200 pounds and that eats by aggressively chomping its huge beak onto food isn’t as cute or cuddly as the red ear sliders that I mentioned earlier. Someone with an alligator snapping turtle is eventually going to need an impressively large enclosure to house the growing reptile and a real commitment to its care, since they can easily live to be between 80 and 120 years old, if not longer! I don’t think that your grandkids are going to be thrilled when you leave “Bonecrusher” to them in your will, but that might just be me.

 (Photo by jessiCATmarie/Creative Commons via Flickr)(Photo by jessiCATmarie/Creative Commons via Flickr)

The best reasons to consider a more traditional turtle friend might just be the alligator snapping turtle’s dangerous beak and its neediness. These turtles are voracious eaters and require a decent amount of meat per serving. Owners give their alligator snappers a selection of chicken, fish and beef for a varied diet, but the smart ones keep far away from the turtle’s powerful jaws. Feeding, cleaning up after and general care for an immensely strong predatory reptile isn’t easy when you’re constantly worrying about losing a hand to your pet!

 (Photo by Bill Bouton/Creative Commons via Flickr)(Photo by Bill Bouton/Creative Commons via Flickr)

If you’re one of those armchair herpetologists who is convinced that an enormous, hungry and potentially dangerous alligator snapping turtle is your dream pet, it can be tough for you to legally own one, depending on where you live. These turtles are locally endangered in some states and are absolutely banned in others, such as California, Hawaii and Oregon. Some states, including Florida, require people to buy a permit to own an alligator snapper. Even if you do buy your alligator snapping turtle legally, you’ll want to hang onto the receipt to show local wildlife law enforcement that you didn’t snatch your beloved behemoth from the nearby drainage ditch. Newsflash- Poaching is BAD.

 (Photo by hspauldi/Creative Commons via Flickr)(Photo by hspauldi/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Save yourself the trouble of dealing with an aggressive and threatening behemoth on a daily basis and simply adopt a common pet store variety of turtle. If you really want to get up close and personal with an alligator snapper, try visiting the zoo, buying a fancy gator snapper replica from Safari Ltd, or by taking a barefoot stroll through the swampy marshes of Mississippi. If you need help meeting your new shelled friend, give the Petfinder website a go! Just don’t be disappointed if their turtles can’t take your arm off with a single bite...

*Be sure to check with your state and local laws as far as turtle ownership goes, as the laws might have changed by the time you read this!

Previous Bad Pet Ideas:

Howler Monkey

Source: Animal Legal & Historical Center, National Geographic

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Arnold Carreiro
Pet and Animal Blogger

Feb 26, 2013
by Anonymous
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Great article. I've owned

Great article. I've owned one of these for 24 years now, I'm in the UK and i took it to adoption centre after buying it off some young lad who said he was dissapointed it wouldn't eat a rabbit.

Since owning it in the late 80's I've had to go through the quarantining process, getting legal rights to own it, and spent in excess of £10,000 on tanks, bills, enviro agencies, food, substrate, electricity, and now spend a few hours a day maintaining a steamy indoor pond room as the climate here isn't suited. It's older than both my children, it's caused me no end of problems and I had a 6 month battle with various regulatory bodies in order just to own this.

Looking back I wouldn't have it any other way, he was known as Preston until the birth of my children so his name is now Bowser as he looks like bowser from super mario the kids say - as they look at it from a SAFE distance.

If I had my way he'd back in the deep south of America god knows how he got here in the first place but so many I'll informed people are impressed by exotic looking animals namely predators, just to show off.

Great article, stick to your cats and dogs kids. If you fancy something a little more exotic a leopard gecko or fire bellied toads or newts are great fun and easy care and won't cost over £10,000 over the years, won't live 26+ years!

Feb 26, 2013
by Arnold Carreiro
Arnold Carreiro's picture
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Thank-you so much for the

Thank-you so much for the compliments and your story about Preston B. Turtle!

From my research, the UK has some very strict exotic pet laws, and I’m surprised that Preston wasn’t grandfathered into any new laws that were passed since the 80’s. At least, that’s how it works with US law- Say, if I owned a pet cheetah since 2003, and the Florida state government passed a law requiring new potential cheetah owners to buy a permit in 2009, I would be exempt, since “Speedy” would be grandfathered past the new law. (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the laws regarding exotics weren’t as strict back then to begin with.) Now I’m curious to learn exactly how it works in the UK…

Still, I’m very impressed to learn that you took such good care of Preston for so long, when I’m sure that many others would’ve dumped the big guy into a nearby pond. Good for you, pal! Someone living in Japan doesn’t have your level of patience or yen to keep up with King Koopa though: http://www.japanprobe.com/2008/04/13/alligator-snapping-turtle-in-tokyo/ I wonder where Preston is these days? However your pal got his way across the pond is certainly a mystery, I’m sure that a zoo would’ve taken him off your hands if you had to, but I'm glad that you had a positive experience overall with him. 

Thanks again for sharing, and stay tuned for more “Bad Pet Ideas!” :D

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