How to Clean a Snapping Turtle Shell

Written by mandy slake
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How to Clean a Snapping Turtle Shell
After a turtle has died, consider preserving the shell to highlight its natural beauty. (horned snapping turtle image by Lucid_Exposure from

A well-preserved snapping turtle shell can make for an interesting decorative and conversation piece. Whether you caught and butchered the turtle yourself or you found one that has died, you can clean up the shell with a little work. The common snapping turtle is found east of the Rocky Mountains and from southeastern Canada down into Mexico. The average adult snapping turtle weighs about 15.9 Kilogram, and the upper part of its shell can be as long as 20 inches.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Snapping turtle shell with carcase removed
  • Ant hill
  • Glue
  • Polyurethane sealant

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  1. 1

    Locate a lively ant hill. Place the turtle shell near the mound, so the ants will eat any meat remaining inside. Choose an ant hill that's in an area less likely to be disturbed by other people and animals.

  2. 2

    Check on the shell periodically. Remove it once all the meat has been devoured.

  3. 3

    Glue any loose scutes back into place. The scutes are the keratin plates that cover the top of the shell. They're not connected directly to the bony part of the shell, so they often come loose and fall off. Follow the patterns on the shell to reattach the scutes to their original spot.

  4. 4

    Make sure the shell is completely dry. Spray both the top and bottom of the shell with a polyurethane sealant. This will give it a shiny appearance.

Tips and warnings

  • If you have caught a live snapping turtle or found a dead turtle that hasn't decomposed or been eaten yet, you can remove the body yourself by cutting off the head, limbs and tail with a sharp knife.
  • To access the meat inside, remove the lower part of the shell by cutting through the joint where it connects to the upper part.
  • Snapping turtles have powerful jaws and potentially can amputate fingers. They also have long necks and can reach up to halfway behind their bodies. The best way to hold a live snapping turtle is by the tail or back of the shell.

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