How Bad Do Turtle Bites Hurt?


All Turtles bite, but not all Turtle bites are the same. Today, we discuss some facts about Turtles biting the hands that feed them, plus some other things. You’ll learn a lot from our fellow Turtle keepers’ experiences and pick up tips if it happens to you.

How Bad Do Turtle Bites Hurt?

Most Turtle bites don’t hurt at all, especially if they’re from a 4-inch gentler species such as a Red-eared Slider. However, bigger Turtles with bigger jaws will make bigger bites and cause more pain. This is because of the Turtle’s jaw structure, which is made up of the carapace (top) and the plastron (bottom). Even without teeth, a Turtle’s beak-shaped mouth is designed to bite and tear into food.

This is why the strength of the bite, even without breaking the skin, will hurt badly. A sharp beak, such as what a Box Turtle or a Loggerhead possesses, will be sharp and hurt even more.

One of the worst Turtle bites recorded on video was a 200-pound Snapping Turtle easily slicing through a model hand (which lost 2 fingers) and then snapping a broom handle in two.

The National Geographic feature showed a model hand losing its fingers in a snap (pun intended), but it took 3 attempts for it to snap the broom handle because it wasn’t directly on its jaw.

We can just imagine the pain of losing 2 fingers, but we don’t reckon you have a 200-pound Snapper Turtle in your backyard so you’re pretty safe.

What Does It Feel Like To Get Bit By A Turtle?

The answer to this question depends on the size, species, and mood of the Turtle.

A Turtle bite can feel as gentle as a pair of blunt tweezers. Some describe their experience as being pinched by human fingernails. Harder bites of bigger Turtles with beaks feel like being clamped down by a pair of pliers.

How Strong Is A Turtle Bite?

Smaller Turtles have less jaw strength and thus may not cause much damage. But bigger Turtles can bite hard enough to draw blood, especially with a pointy beak.

A laboratory tested a Snapping Turtle’s jaw force back in 2002 and found that a Snapping Turtle’s jaw force amounted up to over 200 Newtons, or half the force of a human’s bite.

What influences the strength of a Turtle bite is not just their size, but their diet as well. A carnivorous Turtle has the structure to bite down harder things and thus has more jaw muscle for the task.

How Bad Do Turtle Bites Hurt?
How Bad Do Turtle Bites Hurt?

The most dangerous bite would be by an adult Snapping Turtle. A big enough Snapping Turtle weighing 40 to 50 pounds will cause damage to any part of your body. The species has very sharp beaks and a lot of crushing power in its jaws. This can cause piercing of the skin enough to make it bleed. And yes, a Snapping Turtle this big can bite your finger off.

Not only are Snapping Turtle beaks sharp, but the crushing power of its jaws makes the bite hurt  would bite off your finger or a chunk of your hand.

Most pet Turtles are small enough to not cause a lot of damage when it bites. Now some people may scream or shout but they’re often more startled than hurt from the bite as Turtles can snap quickly. It shouldn’t be a major concern for your small pet Turtle, but don’t be complacent, either.

Can A Turtle Bite Your Finger Off?

This is not commonly heard of among pet Turtle owners as the reptiles are usually too small to do much damage.

It is indeed possible for a huge Turtle, such as an adult Common Snapping Turtle or an Alligator Snapping Turtle, to snap off somebody’s finger or toe. If the force is strong and its jaw is wide enough, it could cause a clean break.

This is why everyone, especially kids, is advised not to put their fingers or hands near a Turtle’s face. Turtles are not to be kissed or handled too much, either.

Reasons Why Turtles Bite

It’s good to know the indicators when a Turtle is about to bite so you can avoid its head.

Other than eating, Turtles bite when they are scared, threatened, or irritated. It’s a way to defend themselves against possible attackers. They may also bite gently when they want to test something such as food or a toy.

If you put your finger underwater, a Turtle might mistake it for food and bite it.

There are two kinds of Turtle bites: the curious bite and the aggressive bite.

The curious bite is gentler and is more cautious. As their caretaker, you might’ve experienced their curious bite while handling or feeding them.

On the other hand, the aggressive bite is a deliberate attack. Some people have reported being bitten when they were cleaning their Turtle’s shell or when they handled the Turtle when it was already grumpy. Indicators of an irritated Turtle are when it hisses or snaps at you.

If you are interested in learning more about your fish behavior, check out the links below:

What Happens If A Turtle Bites You?

As a pet owner, you should be ready just in case it happens.

Turtle bites are not poisonous, so that’s not a concern. However, a sizable Turtle may bite hard enough to break skin and cause some bleeding. Just like any other wound, disinfection is a must.

If there’s no puncture, there’s no cause for concern. Just wash your hands as usual after handling your Turtle.

Now if you find yourself in an emergency where a huge Turtle is biting you, your priority is to make it let go of your body part. Don’t hit it or pull or it will clamp down harder. What you need to do is pour water on its face, tricking it to think it’s in its watery environment.

If it doesn’t let go, completely submerge the Turtle in water.

If it still doesn’t let you go, pour some rubbing alcohol instead on towards its mouth and face. The pungent smell and bad taste of the alcohol will force it to release you. Alcohol is not poisonous to the Turtle.

If the situation is dire, skip the water and use the alcohol method instead.

We have some tips to stop a Turtle from biting you right here.

Tip #1: Leave it alone

Turtles, even pets, don’t like to be touched or handled, and if you do it too often they get irritated. So don’t lift or handle your Turtle unless you need to.

If you see a Turtle in the wild, leave it alone. Don’t play with it, hurt it, or tease it.

Tip #2: Call the authorities

If you see a Snapping Turtle in the zoo or the wild, don’t come near. If it needs help, contact the wildlife conservation department in your area to take care of it. The experts know how to handle the situation better than you.

Tip #3: Avoid hand feeding dangerous or bigger Turtles

Don’t hand feed a Turtle unless you know it’s safe. If you’re unsure, use a pair of tongs or chopsticks to place food in its mouth.

Tip #4: Don’t put angry Turtles together

If you put more than one Turtle in an enclosure, fights could happen. The only way to fix this problem is to separate them. Be careful when doing so and avoid their heads during handling.

Painless Turtle-Keeping

Turtle keeping should be joyful and not painful. Even though biting is a Turtle instinct, you can survive taking care of it without ever getting bitten. Stay calm as you take care of your Turtle and don’t give it any reason to be nervous or angry.

Keep safe!

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