Turtle Handling

Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Handling


For most turtles, simply grab them by the shell. Snapping turtles (including the Alligator turtle) require care to avoid being bitten. Snappers may be grasped safely by the tail, but this technique can be difficult to sustain and may injure the turtles. A preferable method is to approach the turtle from the rear, and place one hand on the back portion of the shell. Reach over with your other hand, knuckles facing the top of the snapping turtle’s head with fingers cupped, to grasp the top end of the shell. Use your knuckles to keep its head down. Release by quickly moving your hands to the rear of the turtle to avoid being bitten.  

Proper hand position for grasping the shell of a snapping turtle (alligator snapping turtle pictured). Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.


Limit moving turtles to situations involving rescue, such as when they are crossing a street. Move a turtle in the direction it was walking, provided you can do so safely.  


Many states prohibit the translocation of wildlife, including turtles, for humane and public health reasons. If translocation is legal, move turtles to suitable habitat at least 5 miles.


Euthanasia by carbon dioxide is suitable for snapping turtle but can take hours for them to die due to their ability to tolerate CO2. Shooting is effective if legal and conditions permit. Place a bullet (.22‐caliber) at the middle of the widest part of the head.


Dispose of carcasses according to state requirements.