Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle: What Are The Differences?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: October 10, 2022
© WilleeCole Photography/
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Turtles are in nearly every body of water that we swim in across the United States, even if we can’t always see them. Of the many different species of turtle, there are two species that are regarded as some of the most common. The common snapping turtle is the most common of all snapping turtles, and the painted turtle is the most widespread turtle in the country. Although these are quite different animals in many regards, they also share some similarities. Today, we are going to be exploring those differences in some detail. Let’s compare: Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle; what’s the difference?

Comparing a Snapping Turtle and a Painted Turtle

Snapping and painted turtles vary in size, appearance, and their relationship with humans.
Snapping turtlePainted turtle
SizeWeight: 10-35 lbsWeight: 11-18 ounces
ShellSmooth and domed. Brown or gray.Flat and segmented. Often have colored markings.
DietAlmost everything. Vegetation, fish, lizards, birds, snakes, and more.Mostly vegetation, but will eat small fish and invertebrates.
DistributionMost of the Americas.Most of the United States.
As PetsMake for poor pets.Second most popular pet turtle.
Species and SubspeciesThree living species.Three subspecies.

The 6 main differences between a Snapping Turtle and a Painted Turtle

The main differences between a snapping turtle and a painted turtle are their size, appearance, and commonality as pets.

Even within the large group of animals people refer to as “turtles,” there are a lot of variances. Snapping turtles are members of the Chelydra genus, along with two other species. Additionally, snapping turtles are related to alligator snapping turtles, with all of them belonging to the Chelydridae family. Painted turtles belong to the much larger Emydidae family and are classified in the Chrysemys genus.

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Aside from the categorical differences between these two, there are also some extensive biological differences. Snapping turtles are significantly larger than painted turtles and are among the larger freshwater turtles in the world. Additionally, they have extremely powerful jaws they use to catch food, hence the name. Painted turtles are much smaller and get their names from the beautiful colors that their necks and shells are often decorated with.

Let’s take a closer look at these turtles and discover more of their differences below!

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle: Size

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle
Snapping turtles are much larger than painted turtles.

©Patrick Rolands/

The common snapping turtle is one of the larger freshwater turtles in the United States, second only to the alligator snapping turtle. On average, snappers weigh 10-35 lbs, with males getting larger than females. They grow through their whole lives and have reached weights exceeding 60 lbs, although it’s not very common.

Painted turtles are significantly smaller than snapping turtles. They are often seen alongside red-eared sliders and are almost identical in size. On average, painted turtles weigh between 11 and 18 ounces or a little over a pound.

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle: Shell

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle
Painted turtles often have vibrantly patterned shells.

©Jay Ondreicka/

The shell of a common snapping turtle is pretty discrete when compared to most turtles. It is generally domed and smooth, with little patterning or segmentation visible. The alligator snapper is known for large dinosaur-like ridges, but common snappers are much plainer.

Painted turtles have flat shells with segmentation in the shape of rough hexagons or pentagons, although their shells are still quite smooth. In some subspecies, the underside of their shells is vibrantly colored in reds, oranges, and yellows, giving them their names. The tops of their shells, however, are usually plain.

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle: Diet

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle
Snapping turtles will eat almost anything, while painted turtles are mostly herbivorous.

©Tyler Clemons/

Common snapping turtles are omnivores and will eat almost anything. Although they occasionally eat vegetation, they are excellent predators in most of the environments they inhabit. Snapping turtles eat fish, baby waterfowl, lizards, invertebrates, snakes, and more.

Although painted turtles are technically omnivores, they have a more vegetation-oriented diet than the snapping turtle. They eat aquatic vegetation, small fish, invertebrates (worms and small insects), and more. In captivity, they often eat pellets.

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle: Distribution

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle
Snapping and painted turtles can be found almost everywhere in the United States.


Both the common snapping turtle and the painted turtle have extremely broad ranges across the United States. Snapping turtles live throughout the entire country east of the Mississippi and have a westerly range that extends as far as Idaho.

Painted turtles have a similar range to snapping turtles, if a bit wider. They are found across the east but can also be found in the Pacific Northwest and into Canada.

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle: As pets

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle
Snapping turtles don’t make great pets.

© Stock

Due to the size and danger posed by snapping turtles, they aren’t commonly kept as pets (although it does happen). It’s commonly believed that you can hold a snapping turtle from the side safely, but they are able to reach their necks as far as their back feet!

Painted turtles are the second most common pet turtle, only behind the red-eared slider. Due to their relatively small size and nice colorations, hobbyists often create elaborate tanks for them. Still, escaped captive turtles like the painted and red-eared sliders have contributed to their status as an invasive species.

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle: Species and subspecies

Snapping Turtle vs Painted Turtle
There are three species of snapping turtle and three subspecies of painted turtle.

©David Byron Keener/

There are three species of snapping turtle and one species of alligator snapping turtle:

  • Chelydra acutirostris – South American snapping turtle
  • Chelydra rossignonii – Central American snapping turtle
  • Chelydra serpentina – common snapping turtle (North America)
  • Macrochelys temminckii – alligator snapping turtle

The three subspecies of painted turtles across North America are:

  • C. p. picta – Eastern painted turtle
  • C. p. marginata – Midland painted turtle
  • C. p. bellii – Western painted turtle

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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

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