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Do Snapping Turtles Have Teeth? 5 Truths You Should Know

Besides their physically pronounced beaks, do snapping turtles have teeth? It’s unlikely to get worried about a possible bite from an animal whose name tells its personality. Whether or not snapping turtles have teeth and can bite, the answer lies in their diet and feeding habits.

Hence, you would want to know, what do snapping turtles eat, and how do they feed in the wild? Nothing to worry about. In one of our articles, we have addressed all these concerns.

With over 318 species of turtles recorded around the world, researchers have proven that turtles, in general, do not have teeth, except for some unique species such as the “leatherback sea turtle” that has hundreds of gigantic spikes for teeth and a small leathery tongue at the base. 

With this in mind, snapping turtles do not have teeth. What they have is a set of beaks, each situated on the upper part of their mouth with strong and powerful jaws.

Having said that, this article aims at providing you with more information about snapping turtles, so you can understand your pets better.

do snapping turtles have teeth
snapping turtles do not have teeth.
What they have is a set of beaks, each situated on the upper part of their mouth with strong
and powerful jaws

This article has been reviewed by Dr. Gospel. Read more about our knowledge control process here.

Do Turtles Have Teeth?

No, turtles, irrespective of the species, do not have teeth. What some of the species have that serves the purpose of teeth are sharp spiked ridges strategically positioned in their mouth to enable them to eat food. 

As stated earlier, whether or not turtles have teeth (spiked ridges) depends on the type of foods they eat and how they feed in the wild. And the type of foods they eat in the wild is peculiar to individual turtle’s habitats. 

For instance, some species such as green sea turtles whose primary diets are grasses and algae, have a row of tooth-like projections/ridges along the inside of their beaks. It is these serrated ridges that they use to tear seagrasses and scrape off algae even from hard surfaces. 

Other species such as the leatherback turtles have a sharp, pointed beak with hundreds of spike ridges scattered all over the mouth. This mouth structure allows them to hold on to slippery prey such as jellyfish. 

Some omnivorous species of turtles such as loggerhead turtles have powerful jaws that they use to crush hard-shelled prey.

On the contrary, baby turtles are born with a tooth and the reason for this isn’t far-fetched. Turtles reproduce by laying eggs and their eggshells are leathery in nature and hard to crack open by the newborns. 

For this reason, baby turtles are born with a tooth projecting beyond their beak with which they use to pierce open the eggshell. Once they are out of the eggshell, the tooth falls off within the first few days, giving way for their jaws to develop and gain strength.

spike ridges of leatherback sea turtle
The mouth of a leatherback sea turtle is so designed to allow the animal to hold on to slippery prey such as jellyfish. [source]

Do Snapping Turtles Have Teeth?

No, snapping turtles do not have teeth. This is because they do not chew their foods, instead, they swallow them. What snapping turtles have is a set of sharp, strong, bony beaks each on the upper and lower part of their mouth. 

Since they have no teeth nor spike ridges, they snap at food or prey with their beaks, and when they get a chunk of the food/prey, they swallow it. They would usually snap and hold on to the prey for some time to ensure that the prey is completely helpless (dead) before swallowing it. 

Snapping turtles are omnivores, which means that they can eat both plants and animal matter. With no teeth, they are able to crush on the shells of other animals including smaller turtles of other species.

snapping turtle's mouth with beaks
No, snapping turtles do not have teeth. instead, they swallow them.
What snapping turtles have is a set of sharp beaks each on the upper and lower part of their mouth.

How Do Turtles Chew Their Food Without Teeth?

Not all species of turtles chew their food. Species such as snapping turtles swallow their foods instead of chewing. Besides, turtles are not completely helpless without a means to comfortably eat and enjoy their meals. 

Since they have no teeth, they make up for this with other things that suffice for their teeth. These can be either their sharp beaks with strong jaws, spike ridges in their jaws, or anywhere else in their mouth or a combination of both. 

With these features in their mouth, they are able to tear apart food and crush it as the case may be, before swallowing it. 

With No Teeth, Do Snapping Turtles Bite You?

Yes, snapping turtles do bite even with no teeth. In fact, if you are not careful when handling or hand-feeding them, you may have your finger bitten off by your pet. 

Snapping turtles, especially the alligator snappers have a strong bite force of 226 Newtons, which is strong enough to sever off your finger. 

Naturally, snapping turtles are harmless to humans. They are docile and would only act aggressively if threatened, hungry, or stressed because of poor tank conditions. Thus, in each of these situations, your pet snapping turtle is likely to act aggressively and strike a bite. 

Now that you know what situations will make your pet snapping turtle bite you, ensure that you avoid these mistakes.

snapping turtle can bite off one's finger
proof of alligator snapping turtle biting off a teenage boy’s fore finger. Photo credit: Wilderness & Environmental Medicine (Science Direct)

What Should You Do When A Snapping Turtle Bites You?

Although a bite from your snapping turtle is likely to be very painful, do not panic if your pet bites you. This is because snapping turtles are not poisonous and they do not emit poisonous substances when they bite. 

Nonetheless, when you are bitten by a snapping turtle, do the following to ensure that the wound isn’t contaminated:

  • Submerge or dip your hand or the affected area in water immediately after you sustain the bite.
  • Wash the affected area with warm water and soap.
  • If the bite gets deep into the skin, ensure that you visit medical personnel immediately for proper medical treatment to ensure the wound isn’t infected.

Note: Keep in mind that snapping turtles bite and hold on to their prey, hence, this may happen when they bite. Therefore, when you are bitten by a snapping turtle, do not forcefully pull the animal off your hand or finger. 

This will only lead to more damage. What you should do is to wait patiently and gently try to open its mouth by luring it with a bait.

Wrapping Up

The question of whether turtles have teeth often stem from the fact that:

These concerned keepers see baby turtles born with a tooth and after a few days, they couldn’t see the tooth again and the turtle didn’t seem to grow it back as it grows. 

Well, as we have seen from this article, the tooth in baby turtles serves a significant purpose which is to enable them to pierce their way out of the eggshell. Once that purpose is accomplished, the tooth loses its significance and of course falls off.

This doesn’t justify that turtles have teeth. Turtles including snapping turtles do not have teeth. However, in the place of teeth, some turtle species have either sharp and pointed beaks, spike ridges, or a combination of both sharply pointed beaks and spike ridges. 

One important fact you should note is that the mouth of a particular species of turtle is naturally designed the way it is because of its type of environment and diet. 

What components their mouths have is to enable them to eat the foods that are peculiar to their species. The same thing applies to snapping turtle species.

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