How To Pick Up A Snapping Turtle?

You have probably heard that it’s best to avoid touching snapping turtles. But, as with everything, there is a way to do it safely; if you know what you’re doing and exercise caution, you can handle even large adult snappers. Want to learn more? In this article, we’ll talk about how to pick up a snapping turtle – both what to do and what not to do.

How to Pick Up a Snapping Turtle

how to pick up a snapping turtle

The exact methods you use to pick up a snapper will vary depending on the age and size of the turtle. Regardless of these factors, it’s a good idea to wear thick, protective work gloves when attempting to handle a snapper.

Let’s take a closer look at how to pick up snapping turtles at various stages in their life.

Baby Snapper

Very young snapping turtles are quite small–only around an inch or two in diameter. Despite their small size, they still have an incredibly powerful bite that can do some damage if they latch onto your fingers.

To safely lift a baby snapping turtle, approach it from behind and try not to make any noise. If it hears you coming, the baby may spook and become aggressive.

As you approach, check it for any obvious injuries. If you see any, try to avoid these areas when touching the turtle.

Place your thumb on the backside of the baby’s shell and slip your forefinger underneath its body between the back legs.

Lift the baby gently, keeping a firm hold but making sure not to squeeze its little body too hard. Keep it as low to the ground as possible as you move it.

If you are helping it across the road, move it in the direction it was already heading and set it down on the opposite side of the road. Snapping turtles have a great sense of direction, so do not attempt to change its course. 

If the baby is injured, place it in a shoebox or other small container as gently as possible. Take it to the nearest vet’s office or animal rescue.

Juvenile Snapper

As baby snappers grow toward adulthood, they will become larger and heavier. It will take more than a single thumb and forefinger to lift them.

Quietly approach the juvenile from behind to avoid spooking it. Check for signs of injury such as broken legs, damaged shell, or blood. 

Place your thumb on top of its shell and your forefinger and middle finger on its underside, allowing the tail to slip between the two fingers.

Depending on how heavy the juvenile is, you may want to use both of your hands. If so, place your other hand in a similar manner, with the thumb on top of the shell and fingers underneath its body.

If using both hands, allow the tail to hang loose between them.

Lift the turtle, keeping it as low to the ground as possible. Move it in the direction it was already heading, set it down gently on that side of the road, then back away quickly to avoid being snapped at.

If the turtle is injured, place it in a carrying cage or box and take it to a vet or animal rescue.

Adult Snapper

Adult snapping turtles can weigh up to 35 pounds–more if they are alligator snappers. Because of this, picking them up safely can be a challenge.

Approach the adult turtle as you would a baby or juvenile–from behind, moving as quietly as possible. Look it over for visible signs of injury.

Place one hand on each side of the shell, directly behind the back legs. Place your fingers on the underside of the shell and wrap your hands around to the top, gripping the topside with the balls of your hands.

Make sure you have a firm hold, then carefully lift the turtle. Carry it as low to the ground as possible so it doesn’t have far to fall if you find you can’t bear its weight.

Place it back on the ground as soon as you can, making sure it stays pointed in the direction it was already going. Back away quickly to avoid being snapped at.

Again, if the turtle is injured, place it in a carrying case or box and take it to a vet or animal rescue. 

If you are trying to move the turtle across the road and you aren’t sure you can bear its weight, check out this video for demonstrations of other safe ways to move snappers:

Picking Up a Snapping Turtle: What Not to Do

Above, we discussed the correct ways to move these turtles. But it’s also important to talk about what not to do.

When moving a snapping turtle of any age or size, you should never:

  • Pick it up by its tail: Snapping turtles have long tails that are directly connected to their spines. If you attempt to lift a snapper by its tail, you could dislocate its spine and also crush the turtle’s reproductive organs.
  • Pick it up by its front half: Snappers have deceptively long necks, and if they can reach you, they will bite if they feel threatened. You should never attempt to handle a snapping turtle by the front half of its shell, its front legs, or its head, as you will most likely end up getting bitten.
  • Carry it further than necessary: Snapping turtles are heavy, and carrying them around stresses them out. Never carry them any further than necessary to get them out of harm’s way; you may become worn out and drop them, or they may die from the lactic acid which builds up when they are stressed.
  • Carry it in the opposite direction: As mentioned earlier, turtles have a great sense of direction, and they know where they are trying to go. If you see one crossing toward the right side of the road, do not return it to the left side; it will just attempt to cross the road again once you leave.
  • Place it in water: You may think the turtle is headed toward the nearest body of water, but this isn’t always the case. Place the turtle on the side of the road and allow it to find its own way to the water, if it so chooses–don’t decide its destination for it.


Snapping turtles can be safely picked up and moved as long as you follow the tips and guidelines in this article. Thanks for reading and best of luck!

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