Alligator Snapping Turtle Facts

The alligator snapping turtle, macrochelys temminckii, is the largest freshwater turtle in North America (as well as one of the largest in the world). They measure from 26 to 31.5 inches (66 to 80 centimeters), and weigh from 220 to 249 pounds (100 to 113 kilograms). An alligator snapping tortoise male is often much larger than a female. They have ridged upper shells (that often has algae growing on it), scaly skin, large heads, a beak-like jaw (which is hooked), a long and powerful tail, and even bear-like claws. With all of these qualities, the alligator snapping turtle is often considered the ‘dinosaur’ of the turtle world.

The alligator snapping turtle can be found exclusively in the southeastern United States. They will inhabit large rivers, lakes, canals and swamps, with the juveniles and hatchlings often living in smaller streams. They spend the majority of their time in the water, only coming on land to either bask, or nest (for females). They are able to stay submerged in the water for up to 50 minutes before having to come up for air (which is actually a rather short time compared to most turtles). An alligator snapping turtle is a solitary creature, aggressively foraging for food at night while taking a sit-and-wait attitude to hunting during the day.

The diet of an alligator snapping turtle consists of frogs, snakes, worms, clams, crayfish, aquatic plants, snails and even other turtles. They lay quietly at the bottom of the water fully camouflaged and with their mouth open, dangling a bright red, worm-like piece of flesh. This ‘lure’ will attract the attention of fish and other aquatic creatures that are looking for a meal. Once the prey comes into their mouth, the alligator snapping turtle will quickly snap their jaws shut, consuming its victim. An adult alligator snapping turtle has no natural predators, with humans being their greatest threat.

Breeding season for the alligator snapping turtle takes place during the early spring in Florida and late spring in the Mississippi Valley. Females will nest about 2 months after mating occurs. They will dig their nests about 164 feet (50 meters) from the water’s edge, and lay anywhere from 8 to 52 eggs within the nest. After around 100 to 140 days of incubating, the young alligator snapping turtles will emerge, with the incubation temperature determining the male/female ratio (high and low temperatures produce more females while moderate temperatures results in more males). The hatchlings are independent from the moment they are born and must survive without any help from their parents. If the little ones can survive long enough, they can live to be anywhere from 20 to 70 years old.

The alligator snapping turtle is a threatened species. Loss of natural habitat, contamination of water and over-harvesting for their meat are all playing a part in decline of this creature. Hopefully, something can be done to help the alligator snapping turtle rebound and repopulate. After all, such a prehistoric looking turtle deserves to live and prosper for future generations to see.

Works Cited

“Alligator Snapping Turtle” 19 April 2011

“Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys Temminckii)” 19 April 2011

“Alligator Snapping Turtle” 19 April 2011