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I’ve heard a lot about snapping turtles. Are they good for a pond or should just remove them? – Ponds & Lakes Q & A


I’ve heard a lot about snapping turtles. Are they good for a pond or should just remove them?

I’ve heard a lot about snapping turtles. Are they good for a pond or should just remove them? George – Duck, NC

Ponds tend to attract all types of creatures to your yard, some more desirable than others. With their large claws and strong jaws, snapping turtles may make the list of animals you don’t want in your pond. It all really boils down to why you dug your pond in the first place and how you spend your time enjoying it.

The snapping turtle is the largest turtle in the United States, living 30 years on average, their shells growing to around 15 inches, and normally reaching weights of 10 to 35 pounds. The largest common snapping turtle on record being nearly 20 inches long and weighing 86 pounds. It is believed some species of snapping turtles can live up to 150 years with some reports of snappers have been found with musket rounds lodged inside them from the American Civil War.

Snapping turtles tend to inhabit the shallow areas of your pond and will feed off of both plants and animals limited only to what they can fit in their mouths. If you have prized fish or encourage Geese and Ducks to raise hatchlings in your pond you may find snapping turtles to be a major inconvenience. These turtles rarely surface in the pond to bask in the sun and instead are commonly found buried at the bottom of the pond with only their head exposed. Because they are too big to actually hide inside their shell the snapping turtle relies on his sharp beak-like mouth for protection. Their neck is extremely flexible and is able to reach over their shells to protect their hind legs and tail. While their size and power may be intimidating they are not usually aggressive in the water. Rather than attack and bite potential threats they prefer to swim away and hide. That being said, there is no guarantee that you won’t accidentally provoke one of these snappers. If you swim in your pond you may not want to keep the snappers around.

If you have a natural pond and have no intentions of swimming or any special attachment to particular fish or frogs in the water there is no reason why these turtles can’t be a part of the scenery. They can help balance fish populations and are absolutely amazing to look at if you can spot a large one moving around your pond. If you decide that they need to find a new home you can remove them by installing a Turtle Trap. You can bait the trap with fish or meat from your home and place the trap in the shallow areas of your pond. You don’t want the turtle to drown so keep the top of the cage exposed and out of the water. When you catch a turtle be sure to use thick working gloves to protect your hands from potential bites or scratches. Pull the cage from the pond and transport the turtle to another location. As they are known to travel far distances over land you will want to relocate them a few miles away from your pond or they may find their way back. Never try to catch snapping turtles using hooks as they tend to swallow food whole. If they ingest a hook you will be unable to remove it and possibly injure the turtle.

POND TALK: Did you find snapping turtles in your pond? Do you love them or hate them and why?

Keep those fish safe from predators!

34 Responses

  1. I have trapped and relocated many snappers from my duck pond over the last 10 years. They not only kill and eat the baby ducks but will pull a full size duck under water and bury it in the bottom of the pond for future meals. I stocked the pond with several kinds of fish and they eat all of them within a year. I am a nature lover except for this killer.

  2. Dr E. was responding in a very informed and intellectual manner and I was very impressed, until he stated that snapping turtles don’t eat ducks. My story: I was in a Jon boat fishing a farm pond in central Illinois. I was happy to observe a mama mallard with 12 tiny baby ducks moving along the shoreline. They were behind her in single file, mimicking her ever movement. They went around a point and disappeared out of sight in a shallow bay. Ten minutes later they came back, but there was only 11 ducklings. A half hour later, this same thing happened, but now there was only ten ducklings. So, I moved into the other side of this bay and waited. Pretty soon, momma duck and babies came into the bay and suddenly one baby was simply grabbed and disappeared from the surface. I pulled up the anchor and slowly paddled to the place it disappeared. At first, I couldn’t see a thing. Then I saw the yellow of a baby ducks foot. The rest was in the jaws of a good sized snapper. On another trip, same pond, I observed an adult mallard that suddenly started flapping its wings, but couldn’t get air borne. I went to its aid and could clearly see a snapper under it. But as I approached, the whole duck went underwater. Never laid eyes on it again. So, Dr. E, you may be a great guy and contributed a lot to our country and the environment, thank you for your fine work. But I might humbly suggest you spend a little more time at daybreak, when the water is calm, and observe.

  3. take them out they will snap your line eat your fish is just not good for ponds

  4. I chuckle at many of these posts, saddened by some. As a zoologist, I stumbled across this post just bored reading, and wanted to shed some light on this topic. The name Common Snapping turtle shouldn’t trick anybody. They are found in all fresh water in the US. No matter if its a FL swamp or a Colorado river stream, to a Midwest farm pond. I have witnessed a snapping turtle in at least 40 states I have done work in.

    Common snappers are extremely beneficial. The create massive holes under water that are shared by bluegill nests, catfish spawn, and other animals (beavers, muskrats, snakes, etc). Seems contradictory does it not? That’s because adult snapping turtles feed 90-95% on vegetation. To the lady who feeds her fish nightly and the turtle follows her, exactly, they are intelligent. Why work hard for food when u don’t have too? I’ll further explain:
    -As a baby turtle, they eat anything that moves that is small. Snails, worms, bugs. As they get to their scrappy teen years, just like humans, they are growing and need a lot of protein fueled energy to grow. In addition they are small, nimble, and much quicker being youthful! Sound familiar? Their fish eating only lasts a few yews and consists mainly of small bluegill or shad. Rarely do we see them eat larger fish, turtles are not fast enough & common snappers lack the alligator snapping turtle tongue lure device. As an adult, they forage 90% on rummage on the bottom of ponds or streams and usually eat dead creatures & crayfish. As adults they are too clunky and awkward to catch fish. They choose an easy Anacharis plant (great for turtle aquariums) that isn’t going to swim away from them. Also I would like to add that turtles do not eat ducks or baby ducks. Just like going outside with wet hair does not make you sick, if u think that’s true I’m sorry to tell you your parents were wrong and the Rhino virus is actually what causes your cold, not wet hair. Us humans fear anything that is a predator and never for a good reason. We’v e killed enough creatures off when will it stop? Remove your snapping turtles, ok, so now catfish don’t have spawn holes, nor do bluegill. Compare it to the gopher tortoise in FL, 300-1000 species rely on their burrows! I wish we had the number for the snapping turtle but it’s under water. Just ask those guys who grab them by hand… Beavers, muskrats, carp, catfish, etc! The ecosystem thrives off of them. Every native species plays a massive role! Dead fish, animals, dead ducks, yes the turtle will eat that, it scavenges easy meals, turning what would be waste into energy. They will long surpass our race, they’ve been here a hundred million years longer too.

    So if you think u have or don’t have them… You do. Let them be, they will keep your lake safe. They eat insects, mosquito larvae, leeches, carrion (dead stuff), and can eat away invasive plants too.

    Females travel at night to find mates & lay eggs, so it’s very rare to even see them. Males stay in the water 90-95% of their life. I’ve actually never in 30 years seen a male outside the water.

    When you look at one, look into their eyes, that turtle could have been here 150 years ago and looked into your great relatives eyes, or saw the civil war. We’ll never Know.

    Dr. E, Zoologist, SIUC

    -Numerous articles written about the snapping turtle
    -raised injured & baby snapping turtles for 27 years
    -love for evolution

    • Thank you for all the useful information Dr. E!

    • Thank you Dr. E, for the educational and enlightening information. My wife thought she saw a rock walking into our 3000 gallon ornamental pond today. Obviously it had to be a turtle but she could not tell what kind.That’s what brought me to this blog. I’m glad I found it.

    • Thanks for a great article. This morning I discovered a yearling or younger (2″) snapper in the muck bucket from my skimmer cleanings. I had no idea he got cleaned out of my 3000 gal. ornamental fish pond. I love turtles and was so excited to find him! After enjoying him out of the water for a while I released him on the bank and he made his way back into the water. Other than cleaning out excess yuck I try to keep my pond as natural as possible. I love my toads, frogs, tadpoles, snails, fish and their fry, barnswallows swooping for a sip, dragonflies, etc. I’m proud that my pond attracts nature. I’m not thrilled with the raccoons who ate all my large expensive fish, but I’m satisfied with regular goldfish. I no longer use any chemicals after the unfortunate discovery that one that I used killed songbirds. Each new discovery of life in the pond is exciting and as long as the snapper doesn’t cause any trouble he is welcome in my pond.

    • I have personally witnessed my own hand raised adolescent duck in the jaws of a snapping turtle in my own pond. Not needing the services of a zoologist to explain to me that it doesn’t happen, I later trapped and removed two of them.

      • Sorry for your loss. That had to be tough.

        Common sense and experience are the best teachers. Maybe a snapper might not aggressively go after a fast moving target, but a young duck sitting or drifting would be hard for any hungry meat eater to pass up. I’ve kept 5″ to 7″ snappers as pets for short periods of time and they can be eating machines. To be fair, every type of water turtle I’ve had experience with is the same way. Healthy, hungry turtles in the water mean business. I’ve seen ‘sweet’ 5″ painted turtles and red ear turtles kept together in too small a container eat a leg off of their tank mates. Soft shell turtles eat voraciously too. You have to watch your own fingers around any water turtle.

        I love nature, but I’m well aware that it can smack you in the face when you least expect it. A healthy dose of respect should accompany anyone’s love of nature.

        Thank you for sharing your experience. A good piece of knowledge we can tuck away.

      • I have also witnessed multiple adult ducks mutilated and killed by snapping turtles on ponds and countless ducklings eaten… snapping turtles absolutely prey on waterfowl, both young and old, and for a zoologist to claim that fact as fiction is simply outrageous.

      • We have to remember, ponds are ecosystems. This includes everything in and around the pond. Sometimes we cannot stop how nature balances itself out and runs its course.

    • This article was very enlightening! Thank you!

    • Thank you so much for your information on snapping turtles in my pond. Several years ago we caught one and removed it safely to a different environment (no not our neighbor’s pond) Yesterday as I was driving out of my lane my husband and I spotted a snapper on the edge of the far side of our 1/3 acre pond. (the area where we have built up an under water structure with objects for fish to swim into.) We never swim in that area.
      My grandchildren and I love to swim and dive off of the dock on the opposite side of the pond. I’m not exactly scared of one of us being bitten by a turtle but it is on my mind. Should it be? I have not told the kids that we saw this turtle, which scooted into the pond as soon as it sensed our approach, as I know it would frighten them out of swimming in the pond.
      Hoping you can ease my mind!

      • Hi Suzanne – Like most wildlife, snapping turtles will leave you alone unless provoked. If you are unsure, I would recommend trapping and releasing to another area.

      • We saw Old Moe a couple of times this month…He (or she) is HUGE! but since I hear they are mostly scavengers, I just leave him alone. I think he is about 15 inches across and about 24″ long. Pretty big turtle. his head is easily the size of my clenched fist.

      • i never ever thought i would find a huge turtle in my pond. it is a half acre, springfed, that we had dug out circa 1989 (location Sullivan County, New York). The pond is banked, shallow at the edges but about nine feet in the middle. We stocked it with bass and minnows but haven’t fished it in years. And every year i love swimming in it. There are water lilies everywhere. To manage the algae I put aqua shade (or similar) in it annually which gives the water a beautiful blue tint but is reportedly nontoxic

        Just about a half hour ago I was walking toward the pond and saw a giant turtle on the dock — how it even got up there baffles me because the ladder leading up is difficult to navigate. My heart stopped. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I stared at it and kept going, hoping I could get my camera — but seconds after i walked past I heard a splash and knew it had gone back into the water. Now I am terrified to swim in the pond. That turtle was definitely BIG – at least a foot and a half long and almost as wide. I am troubled . . I can’t believe it’s been living in there all this time and I never saw it!!! . Is this a snapping turtle? Are there other large turtles like this that are not snappers???

      • Hi Silvia – It is likely a snapping turtle. There is no reason to be alarmed; like most wild animals, if you leave him alone, he’ll leave you alone. You can also set a turtle trap and relocate him to another pond. Turtles tend to migrate from pond to pond, so your pond may have just been a stopping point on his way.

      • thank you, Mel, for taking the time to respond. I did do a thorough read of this blog but still wasn’t sure whether or not this was a snapping turtle. From other research I did, tho, it sounds like the size alone indicates that’s exactly what it is! Thanks to you, I will continue my relaxing and meditative swims in my beautiful pond and hopefully transmit good vibes to the turtle as well . . .

    • I have a baby snapper in my small backyard pond. What do I do with the turtle in the fall/winter. I live in Northern Ohio….

    • do u know anything about read ear slider turtles I
      I live in west virginia and it freezes here can they live in the cold pond in winter

      • Hi Lisa – Red Ear Slider turtles will hibernate (or brumate) in shallow waters for the winter. They will start move less and stay towards the bottom of your pond once temps dip below about 50°F. To ensure there is enough oxygen in the water, I recommend adding a deicer or aerator to your pond. This will keep a hole open in the ice so gas exchange can occur.

  5. A snapping turtle discovered my backyard ornamental pond about 1 1/2 weeks before I discovered him. I knew something was eating my lilies but never imagined it would be a snapping turtle. One day at dawn I saw him on the rock bed around the edge of my pond. I knew he had to go because I love my liles and I was concerned that my goldfish would become sushi. I was very lucky when, within a couple of hours, I found him in the grass outside the pond. I caught him easily and transported him in a bucket to the river several miles away. I’m sure he is much happier with so many more possibilities for a new home.

  6. I have a very old female snapper, Mrs. Turtle, whose home has been my pond for over 20 years. She shows her face every June 15 or 16 like clockwork and comes to the edge to say her greeting and eat the fish food right alongside my fish. I have actually never seen her eat any fish in my pond and other than tiny bluegill babies early in the season, that is all that disappears. I have 75 albino catfish and a mixture of bright orange Koi. Many of my fish are recognizable each year by markings. But this turtle is so smart…she will follow me all along the pond as I move from one side to another, or on my bridge (she goes under water and pops up where I am). BTW my pond is about 1/4 acre. I don’t understand why it’s necessary to shoot these beautiful creatures when just feeding them fish food every nite does the trick. Plus, it’s amazing to see them look at you and respond. Give them a chance … not all of them are Baaaddd.

    • I’m happy to hear you have such a welcomed addition to your pond. I’m sure Mrs. Turtle appreciates your caring company!

  7. We have had several Snappers this year [2010] We had never seen a turtle in this pond for the past 9 years. We have removed 3 this year and have at least one more that we have not been able to catch. Why so many this year?

    • It may be something as simple as a change in habitat or food availability. If your pond was new or perhaps the surrounding landscape has changed over time it may have created a more suitable habitat which the turtles may find diserable.

  8. Someone said they saw a turtle in my pond. I have been watching but have not seen one. Could someone tell me how they know that they have a turtle in their pond, other than seeing it?

    • Hi Shiela,

      Turtles will spend a good deal of time under water, but will need to come to the surface to breathe. Like all turtles, these turtles have lungs and need to breathe air. But turtles don’t need to breathe as often as humans do. Some pond and marsh turtles take only one breath an hour. Just keep an eye out for its head above the water. If you find that you have a turtle in your pond that you do not want, they can be trapped, using a Turtle Trap, and removed a good distance away so they don’t return. They will eat vegetation and small mammals, so if you had floating lilies that were being shredded or small ducklings suddenly missing, that would be an indication that you had a turtle present in your pond.

  9. We have for the first time discovered we have a snapping turtle in our pond. We now have a turtle trap set in hopes of catching him. Unfortunately he ate all the water lillies we purchased from your company this summer. So I am really bummed!

  10. another way to remove snapping turtles from a pond is with a .22 caliber rifle–works very well & quickly

  11. Yes, I have trouble with snappers. I have my small pond stocked with blue Gills and Wide Mouth bass and Gamboushi (sp?) a.k.a. mosquito fish. The snappers will lie in the mud out of sight except for part of their pointed heads and grab their dinner as it swims by. Because I have a small pond (1/4 acre) my bass population is limited. I like to catch and release with them as well as the Blue gills – primarily for my grand kids. They get the thrills. I have found the snappers will respond to the fish when they get into a feeding frenzy when I give them stale bread and they will come to find out what all the excitement is about. Then I can resort to polulation control.

    I have tried to catch them but it seems they are too smart and the really big ones can tear up a rather substantial trap if it is not steel. Therefore, I have to shoot the snappers.

    I find a 0.45 cal Glock used over the rail of my dock when feeding the fish is a rather effective snapper population control device.

  12. We have a snapper that comes around every year. “Old Moe” has been coming around for years, we last saw him/her in July for about two weeks straight. Since the snappers are migratory, I always tell my wife that he/she will only eat the slow dumb fish and frogs and then move on. In any case we haven’t seen him since July, so I think he has already left our pond. I have heard lots of horror stories, but we haven’t seen if they are true yet. I would hate to have to trap “old Moe”….

    • I’m with you about Old Moe. My turtle, Mrs. Turtle, is an amazing part of my eco system and enjoyment. She waits patiently with her head poked above water in the same spot every single night for fish feeding time. She looks straight at me and even raises her head and body way out of the water when I talk to her in a familiar voice. I consider her a pet and she feeds right along the fish. No one seems bothered and I’ve never seen her snap at a fish, even when one comes right in front of her mouth. She shows up in June and usually stays through August, disappears for a couple weeks and returns in September before burrowing for the season. I could no more hurt this prehistoric creature than one of my own pets. I think the horror stories are exaggerated; unless things like baby ducklings are in your pond. Enjoy old moe and get to know her. My turtle is over 45 years old (by markings). This is her home and the fish are fine!

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