How Long Can a Snapping Turtle Stay Underwater?

A Quick Answer

A snapping turtle can stay underwater for about 30 to 40 minutes while active, and up to several hours, or even months during brumation, when it is inactive or resting.

Snapping turtles are fascinating creatures with unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in their aquatic habitats.

They are known for their strong jaws, rugged shells, and the ability to stay underwater for extended periods.

But have you ever wondered how long can a snapping turtle stay underwater, how they breathe, both underwater and on land? Can snapping turtle drown? and etc.

Let’s delve in and answer all those questions.

How Do Snapping Turtles Breathe?

Snapping turtles, like all turtle species, are air-breathing reptiles. They breathe using lungs, much like humans and other mammals.

This means that snapping turtles need to surface to breathe, taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide.

When a snapping turtle surfaces for breath, it extends its head out of the water, opens its nostrils, and inhales deeply.

It then submerges again, holding its breath underwater. The length of time a snapping turtle can hold its breath depends on its activity level and the temperature of the water.

Snapping turtles, being cold-blooded animals, have a slower metabolism than warm-blooded animals. This slower metabolism means they use oxygen more efficiently and can hold their breath for extended periods.

However, it’s important to note that while snapping turtles can stay underwater for long periods, they cannot breathe underwater like fish.

They do not have gills and must surface to breathe.

Interestingly, snapping turtles have been known to absorb a small amount of oxygen directly from the water through their skin and the lining of their throat and cloaca, an opening used for excretion and reproduction.

This is known as cutaneous respiration.

While this method doesn’t provide as much oxygen as lung breathing, it does allow snapping turtles to stay submerged for longer periods without needing to surface for breath.

How Long Can a Snapping Turtles Stay Underwater?

The length of time a snapping turtle can stay underwater is quite impressive. These aquatic turtles can hold their breath for extended periods, allowing them to remain submerged for a significant amount of time.

When active, a snapping turtle can hold its breath and stay underwater for about 30 to 40 minutes. This ability to hold their breath for long periods of time is crucial for their hunting and foraging habits.

Snapping turtles are ambush predators, often lying in wait for prey to come close before striking.

However, when snapping turtles are inactive or resting, they can stay underwater for much longer.

In fact, they have been known to remain submerged for several hours without needing to surface for breath.

This is possible due to their slow metabolism and the ability to absorb a small amount of oxygen from the water through their skin and throat lining.

The temperature of the water also plays a role in how long a snapping turtle can stay underwater.

In colder water, a snapping turtle’s metabolism slows down, reducing its need for oxygen and allowing it to stay submerged for longer periods.

This is particularly relevant during the winter months when snapping turtles go into a state of brumation, a form of hibernation for cold-blooded animals. During this time, snapping turtles can stay underwater for several months without needing to surface.

It’s important to note that while snapping turtles can stay underwater for long periods, they still need to surface to breathe.

They are not like fish that can extract oxygen from the water through gills. Snapping turtles breathe air and must come up to the surface to fill their lungs.

How Do Snapping Turtles Breathe Underwater?

While it’s important to note that snapping turtles, like all turtles, primarily breathe air through lungs, they have developed a fascinating adaptation that allows them to stay underwater for extended periods.

This adaptation involves a process known as cutaneous respiration, where they can absorb a small amount of oxygen directly from the water.

This oxygen absorption occurs through the skin and the lining of their throat and cloaca.

While this method of ‘breathing’ doesn’t provide as much oxygen as lung breathing, it does supplement their oxygen supply, enabling them to stay submerged for longer periods without needing to surface for breath.

This is particularly useful when snapping turtles are resting or brumating in cold water, as their metabolism slows down and their oxygen requirements decrease.

However, cutaneous respiration in snapping turtles is not sufficient for their oxygen needs when they are active.

When a snapping turtle is swimming around or hunting, it needs to surface more frequently to breathe air into its lungs.

Can Snapping Turtles Breathe Without Oxygen?

No, snapping turtles cannot breathe without oxygen.

Like all animals, snapping turtles require oxygen to survive. They primarily get this oxygen by breathing air into their lungs.

They can hold their breath for extended periods, thanks to their slow metabolism and their ability to absorb some oxygen from the water, but they still need to surface to breathe.

While underwater, snapping turtles reduce their metabolic rate, which slows down their oxygen consumption.

However, they cannot completely stop their metabolism, so they still need some oxygen.

If a snapping turtle is prevented from surfacing and accessing air, it will eventually use up its oxygen reserves and drown.

How Do Snapping Turtles Breathe During Hibernation?

During hibernation, or more accurately brumation (a term used for the hibernation-like state of cold-blooded animals), snapping turtles’ metabolic rate slows down significantly.

This reduction in metabolism decreases their need for oxygen, allowing them to stay submerged for months without needing to surface for breath.

In this state, snapping turtles rely on cutaneous respiration, absorbing oxygen directly from the water through their skin and the lining of their throat and cloaca.

The oxygen in the water passes across these membranes into the blood vessels, providing the minimal oxygen needed during this period of inactivity.

However, the ability of snapping turtles to breathe during hibernation is highly dependent on the quality of the water they are in.

If the water is polluted or low in oxygen, the turtles may not be able to get the oxygen they need and could potentially suffocate.

Can Snapping Turtles Drown In Water?

Yes, snapping turtles can drown in water.

Despite their ability to hold their breath for extended periods and absorb some oxygen from the water, snapping turtles are not fish and do not have gills.

They breathe air and must surface regularly to fill their lungs with fresh air.

If a snapping turtle is trapped underwater and cannot reach the surface to breathe, it will eventually use up its oxygen reserves and drown.

This is why it’s important to ensure pet turtles have easy access to the surface in their tanks.

Can Snapping Turtles Breathe on Land?

Yes, snapping turtles can breathe on land.

They breathe air into their lungs, just like humans and other mammals. When on land, snapping turtles breathe the same way they do when surfacing from water.

However, snapping turtles are aquatic animals and spend most of their lives in water.

They are not designed to be out of water for extended periods.

If a snapping turtle is out of water for too long, it can become dehydrated and stressed, which can lead to health problems.

Therefore, while they can breathe on land, snapping turtles should always have access to water.

Why and When Do Snapping Turtles Come out of Water?

Snapping turtles are primarily aquatic and spend most of their lives in water. However, there are times when they do come out of the water.

One of the main reasons snapping turtles leave the water is to bask in the sun.

Basking helps them regulate their body temperature and metabolize certain nutrients.

Snapping turtles also come out of water to lay eggs. Female snapping turtles will find a suitable spot, often quite a distance from water, to dig a nest and lay their eggs.

In addition, snapping turtles may leave the water in search of food or a new habitat, especially if their current habitat becomes unsuitable due to pollution or competition.

What Do Snapping Turtles Eat Underwater?

Snapping turtles are omnivores and have a varied diet. Underwater, they eat a variety of organisms.

They are known to eat fish, frogs, snakes, small mammals, birds, and even other turtles. They also consume aquatic plants and dead animal matter.

Snapping turtles are opportunistic feeders and excellent ambush predators.

They often lie in wait for their prey to come close, then snap their jaws shut with incredible speed, hence their name.

Do Snapping Turtles Make Good Pets?

Snapping turtles can make interesting pets for the right person.

They are unique creatures with distinct personalities. However, they require a lot of care and a large, well-maintained aquatic habitat.

Snapping turtles can also be quite aggressive and have powerful jaws that can deliver a serious bite.

They are not ideal pets for everyone, especially not for families with young children or for those who are inexperienced with reptile care.

If you’re considering a snapping turtle as a pet, it’s important to remember that they can live for several decades and grow quite large.

The commitment to care for a snapping turtle is not a decision to be taken lightly.

About David Nitta

I am a lifelong lover of turtles and have dedicated years of research to understand and care about this wonderful creature. I regularly post blogs, mostly from what I read and my own experience, covering everything from turtle care, health, feeding habits, habitat setup, and so much more.