Hi, nice to meet a fellow "Snapper Keeper."
That pun ought to give you a rough estimate of my age, if you know what it refers to. I've been keeping turtles for over 3 decades, but to be fair, I did start young.
I want to respond to your points, which are all good ones, about keeping turtles and especially a snapper. I happen to agree with everything you said, but I'd like to expand on my philosophy for any other readers that might wonder. Responses inline.
What's your plan as the snapper grows up? I eventually returned mine to whence he came. This seems to be the common practice.
Letting them go is about all you can do, and yes, all my turtles get released back to the wild. The bluegills do to. I release the turtles and fish back into the ponds from which they came, which in my case are artificial neighborhood ponds surrounded by houses, as well as a nearby lake.
My goal is to enjoy the animal for a little while, but then let it go back to nature. I'm not really trying to eff up their whole program. Ultimately, no matter how perfect an environment I provide, I believe that the animals would choose freedom and danger over safety and captivity, every time, like I would.
I keep them a while and treat them the best I can, and then when I feel they have exceeded my ability to provide the best situation for them, I let them go.
I am aware that there are those who would criticize even this approach. If you go on turtle forums, which are full of hand-wringers and warnholes, people will insist ridiculous things such as "they will catch some disease in your tank that will wipe out all turtles on earth if you release them" and "the turtle will forget how to fend for itself" and other such nonsense.
However, this is why I choose to keep native species, and then let them go later. I don't think the world would end if you bought a RES at a LFS and then let it go somewhere in America. Not recommended, perhaps not ideal, but honestly it would probably not be a huge issue. Local turtle population gets a small genetic variation boost. . .
Around here predators dig up the eggs and we'll occasionally save some and hatch them at home or in backyard ponds in a conservation effort though it's still considered "poaching" with a fine of up to $2,500 per turtle last I checked.
Part of the reason I'm comfortable with keeping wild RES and snapper turtles, bluegills, etc. is that none of these guys is in short supply anywhere. I mean, it says "common" right there in the name, Common Snapper. . . RES have managed to establish themselves nation-wide, from Mexico to Canada. There is zero harm in a private individual taking one (or many) of these turtles out of the wild, especially if only temporarily. Snappers are on the weakest level of the CITES list, but mainly as a nod to conservation. They aren't scarce. Bluegill? Those must exist in the trillions or quadrillions, nationwide.
And, in my state, it happens that the law agrees with me. RES, snappers, and bluegill are all legal to take from the wild, and EAT! Up to a certain limit, which for snappers is 8 per day.
I can catch all I want, year round, and do as I wish with them. Well, I can eat them, but I'm not allowed to put them in a circus. But you can keep them all you want.
Now, whether I actually bothered to renew my fishing license this year may be another issue, but that's between me and the Warden. . . Personally, I can't believe that the guy would get out his ticket book for one dude that jumped out and picked up a baby snapper off the road. And I've never seen a Warden at the neighborhood duck pond. . .
Ultimately I pay taxes in this land, and under our laws that entitles me to a share of the fish and game.
Even with an outdoor set-up they get too huge with stegosaurus-like tail-spikes and they can easily remove a finger. I fed mine raw chicken by hand as a stupider younger lad.
I've encountered plenty of adult snappers- nasty customers, usually! Incidences of common snappers removing fingers are actually pretty rare, but there is no doubt they could do it if you go poking your little hand-worms at an adult snapper.
I do feed this guy with some big tweezers and when he was little I fed him by hand. Little bugger would ignore the food and try to gnaw on me! It was cute when he weighed an ounce or two, but at about 5 inches carapace length, he's already too big for me to let that continue. Even when I feed him with tweezers, he bites the tweezers with surprising force. Then he doesn't let go. . .
I have not bothered to try to socialize him much, I usually don't with wild animals. But oddly enough, common snappers aren't really that aggressive and can be socialized very well. Handling them just isn't my interest anymore. I don't even refer to it as a pet, usually, like my snakes when I had those, I refer to them as "display animals."
Can't find it now, but I saw one video of a little girl walking around with a BIG snapper, easily capable of nipping off little fingers, but the girl showed no fear, and the turtle was totally chill and seemed to enjoy the superman ride it was getting. (Still a little worrisome to watch, though. . . These guys are never truly tame.)
They could easily outlive their keeper in the right conditions so I'm curious about your long-term plans. Multiple specimens tend to cannibalize each other in home aquariums as well so it's a tricky venture. Certainly rewarding though, fascinating creatures. I'd say your bluegill's days are numbered.
No doubt- keeping him until the end would be a major undertaking, true of any pet turtle, really, which is why I hate to see even captive-bred or common turtles in the pet trade. That kid that bugged his parents for the russian tortoise whe he was 10? What's he gonna do, take that thing to college with him? (In that real case, it turned out it didn't matter- the kid let the totroise go for a walk in the yard, came back a little too late, never saw him again. Problem solved. For the kid, anyway. When told this story, they knew I knew reptiles so they asked if the turtle was "probably just all right out there, living a happy life." I assured them that this was very UNlikely and that the poor guy probably didn't make the winter. I could have told them the lie that they wanted to hear, but I felt it was a opportunity to educate a young reptile keeper on the real consequences.
All that said, I'm not saint, I kept lots of aniumals in jars as kid and many of them died. I learned from it, matured, and now I do my very best to avoid harming my captives.
As far as the bluegill's survival chances, they are pretty good. They've lived together for a year, and the fish knows how to stay out of the turtle's way and is much faster than the turtle. They occur naturally in the same waters so the fish is well adapted to avoiding turtles. There is no doubt the turtle would eat the fish if he could catch him! As it is now, if the fish comes too close, the turtle will swat a lazy claw or snap at him and he backs off, but the turtle is way too fat and lazy to really put serious effort into catching that fish.
Now, it may be
that I experimentally
added a pleco to that tank to see how fat he would get off the rampant algae, and it could
be the case that the turtle caught the poor guy sleeping. . . I saw the pleco around for the first few weeks, but I sure haven't seen him lately. . .
(Sarcasm intended, but yep, $5 feeder fish. . . Oh well.)
TL/DR- I agree with @splattered
, and this wild turtle will return to his ancestral pond when he gets too big.
Bonus Snapper Snapshot: