There could be dozens of them in your local creek. Snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in North America. And although they might seem slow and sluggish, they’re quick. And their jaws are so strong that they could bite your finger.

Unlike other species of turtles, the snapping turtle can’t fit its head and limbs inside its shell to protect itself and escape predators. But this turtle has sharp claws. And since the snapping turtle doesn’t have teeth, its ultimate weapon is its extra strong bony beak.

Snapping turtles can grow to 46 cm (18 in) long and weigh up to 34 kg (75 lb). You can identify them due to their long tail covered in sharp, spiny ridges.

The alligator snapping turtle has a jaw strength of over 450 kg (1,000 lb). That could inflict an intensely painful bite, and it could rip a toe off.

What diseases can snapping turtles give you? What vaccine would you need after the bite? And why shouldn’t you try opening the turtle’s jaws?

Step 1. Move slowly

Snapping turtles act quickly and without thinking, based on their reflexes. So if you see a couple of these reptiles while swimming in a pond or river, don’t move quickly. If a snapping turtle heads toward you, slowly move away without splashing or making loud noises. The turtle could interpret that as a threat and you could feel the power of its jaws.

Step 2. Don’t fight

If a snapping turtle bites you, stay calm and don’t try to open its jaws. Don’t let the pain get the best of you. Try to think reasonably.

The more you struggle, the harder these reptiles will clamp down onto you. You can remove the turtle by submerging it in water. Stay still, and the turtle will usually release you from its grip. As soon as it lets you go, get away from it. You don’t want it to bite you again and it’s likely to since the turtle is already agitated.

Step 3. Treat the wound

Snapping turtles have salmonella bacteria on their skin and in their mouths. After the bite, an infection should be your biggest concern.

The first thing you’ll need to do is clean the wound with warm water and soap. Then apply an antiseptic gel or cream to prevent further infection and wrap the bite with sterile gauze. Apply slight pressure if the wound continues bleeding.

Step 4. Get your shots

After getting first aid, check for swelling around the bite or pus in the wound. These are symptoms that you have an infection and you might need a tetanus shot or a course of antibiotics.

Other symptoms of an infection are a headache or fever. If you develop any of these after the bite, you’ll need medical attention.

Step 5. Don’t hurt them

If you pick it up by the tail, these turtles can easily turn around and bite you. If you don’t come near them, they can’t hurt you. So leave these reptiles alone.

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