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Snapping Turtle Mouth Open: Is It Normal? What You Should Do

Snapping turtle mouth open – is it something I should worry about? Snapping turtles do not just keep their mouths open for no reason. When you see your snapping turtle keeping its mouth open, you might be wondering why it is doing so.

Snapping turtles usually keep their mouths open in the water while hunting for food. On land when they feel threatened or unsafe, they’ll keep their mouths open as a warning signal. They would usually do this when they’re not in the water as a defense mechanism. 

One thing you should do is that not all mouth-opening actions are normal. If your snapping turtle keeps its mouth constantly open, that should give you cause for concern, as that could be a sign of them not having a comfortable enclosure or a sign of sickness that should be treated as fast as possible.

This article is here to provide answers to your concerns about why snapping turtles open their mouths, whether it is normal or not, and what you should do when you see your snapping turtle opening its mouth.

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

Snapping Turtle’s Head And Mouth

Snapping turtle head and mouth
Snapping turtle head and mouth

Snapping turtles are large aquatic reptiles with large heads that would not allow them to withdraw into their shells. The color of their heads varies from black to dark brown and tan. The head of a common snapper takes a round shape while that of an alligator snapping turtle has a triangular shape. 

They have two sharp black eyes right above their mouths with a pointed nose (snout) in-between. They do not have external ears, only a flap of skin that covers their internal ears thereby preventing them from hearing sounds clearly. Instead, they receive sounds in the form of vibration.

Snapping turtles have hook-like powerful jaws that look like a bird’s beak. They do not have teeth, and so they cannot chew. With the help of their powerful jaws, snapping turtles’ bite is fierce enough to crush a bone and tear off flesh. 

The alligator snapping turtles are distinguishably characterized by their Pink colored tongue that looks like a worm. They will only lay motionless at the bottom of the water and winkle their tongue. This will entice a fish, thinking it’s a worm,  it will swim right into the mouth of the turtle where the turtle then snaps at it and crushes it.

snapping turtle mouth open: Why Do Snapping Turtles Open Their Mouths?

When you see a snapping turtle opening its mouth, here are some reasons why they do so.

On Land, Ready To Bite In Self Defense

Snapping turtles often open their mouths when they are pulled out of the water. This is because they feel more vulnerable and threatened on land than inside the water. In the wild, they would keep their mouths open in a way of scaring away possible predators and also when they are trying to secure their territories.

When your pet snapping turtle is on land, it is likely going to keep its mouth constantly open to attack anyone that would want to come close. At the moment, they are often very aggressive and ready to launch an attack. If you notice that, it is better to give it some space and leave it alone or put it back into the water.

snapping turtle open mouth on land
On land, a snapping turtle would open mouth not looking for food but to defend itself if threatened

Under The Water, Hunting 

Snapping turtles are ambush predators, that’s why they open their mouths under the water when they are hunting for food. They can do that for hours, laying still and waiting patiently for prey to come around. When the prey gets to a close-range they will snap at it immediately. 

Alligator snapping turtles have a worm-like tongue which they use to lure fishes into their mouths. They will only lay motionless at the bottom of the water and winkle their tongue. This will entice a fish, drawing it right into the mouth of the snapping turtle. 

Snapping Turtles Always Opening Their Mouths

If your pet snapping turtle isn’t trying to defend itself and it’s not hunting either, you may be wondering why then is my snapping turtle always keeping its mouth open? Maybe longer than necessary? 

The answer isn’t far-fetched, this could be as a result of some discomfort from the enclosure such as inappropriate temperature, poor lighting, insufficient diet (perhaps he’s hungry), or a dirty tank.

Snapping turtles open-mouth could also be caused by a sickness known as respiratory infection which could be deadly if not treated on time. This respiratory infection makes it difficult for them to breathe comfortably causing them to gasp for air or try to breathe by always keeping their mouths open all the time.

alligator snapping turtle hunting for food
Snapping turtles, especially the alligators mostly keep their mouths open in the water when hunting.

Biting Force Of A Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles can exert a biting force of about 209 to 226 Newton which is strong enough to cause serious damages. Though they do not have teeth like a crocodile, their powerful jaws can crush a bone. 

The alligator snapping turtles have been reported on several occasions to have snapped off a human arm. They have very sharp beaks that can chop off one’s fingers.

A common snapping turtle of about 50 pounds is capable of biting off a finger but this is not to be compared to the damages caused by an alligator snapping turtle’s bite.

What To Do If A Snapping Turtle Bites You

If you ever get bitten by a snapping turtle, what you have to do is to remain calm until it releases its grip on you. I know that it could be very painful and scary, but getting frantic and trying to be defensive would give the turtle the impression that you want to attack it, and that would mean making its grip tight and firm.

Your reaction determines if the snapping turtle would hold on longer or retreat. However the case may be, do not try to pull the turtle away or drag yourself from the turtle because this will cause more damage to you. 

Killing the turtle is also not an option as it will cause the turtle’s jaw to tighten up making it difficult to disengage yourself.

As soon as you get released, you don’t just apply first aid treatment at home and leave it at that, especially if the bite has broken into your skin. 

As soon as you can, seek medical attention for treatment so that the wound can be examined and ensure that it will not be infected since snapping turtles are known to be carriers of salmonella bacteria in their beaks.

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

Snapping Turtle Mouth Open And Gasping For Breathe

If you observe that your pet snapper is not only keeping its mouth open but is also gasping for breath, this could be a sign of some respiratory infection

To be sure if it is a respiratory infection, you should look out for other symptoms such as nasal discharge, loss of appetite, bubbles in the eyes, nose, and mouth, closing of eyes, and stretching out of the neck to breathe (gasping). 

Respiratory infection disease makes the snapping turtle have difficulty in breathing. It is very serious and could lead to the death of the turtle if it is not detected and treated on time. 

What you need to do if your snapping turtle is having difficulty in breathing is to bring it outside the water and place it on land while seeking help from a veterinarian. 

Oftentimes, the major causes of respiratory infection are dirty or untreated water, poor lighting, and a dirty tank.

Wrapping Up

Snapping turtles are most of the time seen keeping their mouths open. This is because there are reasons that could trigger this action. This article has taken time to look into those reasons why your pet snapper might be keeping its mouth open.

While some reasons such as hunting in the water and defending itself when on land are normal, mouth opening as a result of respiratory infection disease is something you should act promptly so you can rescue the animal when you still can.

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