Do Turtles Bite? (And How To Avoid Getting Bitten By Turtles?)

do turtles bite

Turtles are peaceful animals, and they won’t bite usually. However, they do have a defence mechanism, and they can bite depending on the situation. Any turtle species can bite if they think of you as a danger or threat. The soft-shell and snapping turtle are notorious the most.

Small turtle bites are not that dangerous. However, adult wild turtles can cause severe damage if they grab your fingers. Snapping turtle species are the most aggressive turtles found in the world. These turtles don’t like human touch, and if you pick them up wrongly, they can rip your muscle apart with their strong jaws. 

Turtles can bite humans, especially if they feel any threat from you. Snapping turtles are infamous for their notorious behaviour. With their strong jaws, they can cause huge damage to you. Pet turtles are generally polite and cause no harm to humans. Now that we know turtles can bite let’s explore when they bite and how dangerous their bites are.

Related Article: Are Turtles Smart Or Dumb?

Do turtles bite?

Yes, turtles can bite if they feel danger from you. These little animals are polite but certain species, such as snapping turtles, show aggressive behaviour. Every animal in the wild develops a defence mechanism to survive. Turtles are no different; though they have hard shells to protect them, sometimes they can bite if they feel danger from you. 

Small turtles usually don’t have enough power to bite your finger off, but they can cause damage with their sharp beak. Soft-shell turtles have long necks, and they can reach behind and bite you if they feel threatened. 

You should be extra careful while dealing with snapping turtles as they are super aggressive and do not like the human touch. A full-grown American alligator snapper turtle can grab your full hands and take apart the muscles. With their strong jaws, they can easily break your fingers too. 

Sea turtles usually don’t bite. These are among the most peaceful turtle species. Sea turtles don’t think humans are a threat, so it is very uncommon for sea turtles to bite.

When can a turtle bite you?

Turtles can bite humans if they feel any danger from you. They can also bite if they have mistaken them as food. It is very uncommon for pet turtles to bite. Also, they don’t have enough power in their jaws to cause any harm to you. Let’s discuss the two most common scenarios when turtles can bite you.

When turtles have mistaken you as food

One of the common reasons for turtles to bite you is that they mistake your finger for their food. Turtles are smart enough to differentiate between meat or vegetables and humans. However, depending on the circumstances, they might confuse your fingers or toe with what they usually eat.  

Turtles are opportunists, and they love to eat whenever they find any food. You should be careful while feeding your little friend. While feeding your pet turtles, it is a good idea to wear shoes so they can not unintentionally eat your toe. 

Small size turtles do not have enough power to cause any injury to you, but sometimes their sharp beak can cause your fingers to bleed. Be careful while feeding or holding your turtles. By keeping an eye over them, you can easily identify aggressive turtles and avoid messing with them. 

When turtle feel danger from you

Pet turtles are used to human touch, and they don’t think of humans as a threat. However, this is the opposite for wild turtles. Turtles who are born and raised in the wild are not used to humans. Usually, when you go too close to them, they would hide in their shell. But sometimes, depending on their behaviour, they may bite you by considering a threat.

Usually, turtles are friendly animals, and they won’t bite in the first place. Instead, they prefer to hide in their shell. But things can go wrong when they feel danger and cannot find a way to escape. 

Some species of turtles, like soft-shell turtles, are notorious. With their long neck, they can bite you for no reason. Their flexible yet long neck enables them to bite you even from behind. 

Another aggressive set of turtles are snapping turtles. These are the most dangerous and powerful turtles found in some parts of the world. All snapping turtles are dangerous, they can wide open their mouth, and with strong jaws, they can break your fingers. Avoid going close to these turtles, as they can leave you with a really bad and painful bite. 

One more reason for a turtle to bite is when you handle them roughly. Turtles are shy, and they get scared when somebody touches them or handles them roughly. Turtle age also plays an important factor in telling if they can bite. 

Young turtles have a higher probability of biting as they don’t have much interaction with humans. Older turtles are much fond of human touch, and so they behave less aggressively and generally won’t bite humans. 

Related Article: Can Turtles & Tortoises Feel Their Shell?

How dangerous are turtle bites?

Turtle bites are not that serious and cause no harm in general. However, this can’t be true if the turtle belongs to the snapping turtle family. Snapping turtles are known for their strong jaw, and they can easily take off your muscles or break your finger bone. 

Any turtle can bite if they feel unsafe, but the turtle species having a sharp beak are most dangerous. If not handled carefully, these species of turtles can cause serious injury.  

There is no scientific data available to find out which species of turtle can cause the deadliest bite. According to various turtle experts, snapping turtles gives the most dangerous bites. 

Turtles contain various germs and bacterias in their mouths. If they bite you, there is a good chance that these bacterias come in contact with your blood. Salmonella is the bacteria that is found in most turtles. When it comes in contact with your bloodstream, it can cause all the wrong things in your body. Diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps are some of the most common symptoms of this bacteria in humans. 

If a turtle bites you, you should get immediate medical attention. Any negligence in treatment can cause serious damage to your health.  

Do turtle bites hurt?

Yes, turtle bites can be painful. It is more daunting if your turtle has a sharp beak. Turtle bite-size depends on the species they belong to and the age of the turtle. This is a way to calculate the strength of their jaws to evaluate the pain they can cause. Bites from red eared sliders, soft-shell turtles and snapping turtles are the most painful. While the other turtles generally do not have enough jaw strength to cause any injury. 

Baby turtles are not harmful, and they don’t have enough power to chew your fingers. Keep in mind that the bigger the turtle, the more painful their bite will be. Handing them with care is the only way you can prevent yourself from getting any pain.

Do pet turtles bite?

It is very unusual for a pet turtle to bite. Pet turtles are used to humans, and so they don’t feel them as a threat. Generally, pet turtles relate their owner with food. In some cases, they can accidentally bite you considering your skin as their food. Keep your fingers away from them and wear shoes if going underwater to feed them. 

A newly introduced pet turtle may bite you if they are not habitual of humans around them. It is often seen that the age of the pet turtles plays a critical role in their behaviour. 

Being less familiar with humans, young turtles can sometimes bite if handled incorrectly. Whereas the older pet turtles are more used to humans, they feel much more comfortable and don’t bite generally.  

How to avoid getting bitten by a turtle?

Except for some species like soft-shell turtles, red ear sliders and snapping turtles, all turtles are peaceful and do not bite generally. However, if the turtle is hungry, they may mistake your finger for something to eat. To avoid any unfortunate accident, make sure your turtle is getting enough to eat. 

Pet turtles do not usually bite. However, be cautious with wild turtles as they may think of you as a threat. Turtles don’t care how you give them food, so don’t bother to feed them with your hands. Instead, give them food on the ground so they no way bite your fingers. 

Also, instead of slippers, wear a shoe before going close to the turtle. They may bite your toe, considering them as food. 

There is no way you can train the turtle. Being patient with them is the only way to make them realise that you are a friend and not an enemy. Younger pet turtles, due to lack of human interaction, show more biting incidents. As they get older, they become more comfortable with humans and less prone to biting. 


Turtles can bite in situations when they feel threatened or unsafe. For pet turtles, it is very unlikely to bite. However, they may confuse you with their food. This common misunderstanding sometimes causes them to bite you unintentionally. On the other hand, some species like soft-shell turtles and snapping turtles are more aggressive. These turtles can bite you for no reason, and they don’t like human presence. Alligator snapping turtles have sharp beaks and powerful jaws, with which they can easily rip off the muscle or break your finger with their attack. Be careful while handling these species in particular.