The alligator snapping turtle is the world’s largest freshwater turtle species.
As a turtle their back features a large shell. This features 3 jagged scales with a pair of scales on either side of these. This shell is coloured dark-brown. Often the top of the shell is covered with algae which assist’s with camouflage on the bottom of rivers.
They have a large head tipped with a strong jaw that features a hooked beak. Their eyes sit on the sides of their head. The legs are short and end with webbed feet. Each toe is tipped with a long claw. Their body ends with a long tail.
Male alligator snapping turtles are much larger than females. Potentially up to twice as large. On average males measure 67cm (26in) and weigh 79.4kg (175lbs). An average female weighs just 22.7kg (50lbs).
The alligator snapping turtle is a carnivore. They feed upon a range of fish, frogs, snakes, clams small mammals and crayfish. On a rare occasion they may feed upon vegetation.
Inside the mouth the tongue has a small attachment which resembles a worm. Most of their hunting takes place by sitting still on the bottom of the water and waiting until an animal swims up to eat the worm.
Male 79.4kg (175lbs)
Female 22.7kg (50lbs)
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North America is the native home of the alligator snapping turtle. They are found from Florida across to Texas and up in to Iowa. The majority of the rivers which they inhabit run down to the Gulf of Mexico.
They are only found in freshwater environments. These include rivers, canals and lakes with juveniles also being able to make their home in streams.
Human expansion has benefited the alligator snapping turtle by providing additional habitat in dams or rivers which have been dyked.
During the day they hide under the water in logs or roots.
The alligator snapping turtle mates in Spring. As they are solitary they need to move to find their mate. Once a male finds a female he will hold on to her shell with all four feet and commence mating.
Egg laying will occur during early summer. Females will leave the water and travel inland to a patch of sand or mud where they can dig a hole in which they deposit up to 52 eggs. They may travel up to 80.5 km (50 miles) to lay these eggs. An average clutch consists of 30 eggs.
The eggs incubate underground for 120 days. Whether the eggs will hatch as a male or female is determined by the temperature. High or low temperatures produce a female while average temperatures will lead to males hatching.
Once the turtles hatch and leave the nest they are independent with no care from the parents.
Sexual maturity is reached at 11 years of age.
The alligator snapping turtle is almost entirely aquatic. Typically only females leave the water and normally this only occurs for egg laying. They are able to remain submerged without surfacing for air for up to 50 minutes.
They are primarily active by night when they will move slowly along the river bed. It is uncommon for them to swim with most of their movement taking place by walking.
When they need warmth they will come out of the water and sit in the sun to bask. Throughout the seasons they can help to regulate their temperature by moving between deep and shallow areas of their environment.
Predators and Threats
Adult alligator snapping turtles only face predation from humans. Their young may be eaten by raccoons, fish and birds.
Humans are contributing due to a declining population through habitat degradation, hunting for meat and poisoning through an accumulation of pesticides in their environment.
The alligator snapping turtle is capable of snapping a broom handle or even bone with their strong jaw.
Top and Bottom
Public Domain, USFWS
By Norbert Nagel, Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17039886
Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK
Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. 1996. Macrochelys temminckii (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 1996: e.T12589A97272309. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.1996.RLTS.T12589A3362355.en. Downloaded on 31 May 2020.
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Stlzoo.org. 2020. Alligator Snapping Turtle | Saint Louis Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/reptiles/turtlesandtortoises/alligatorsnappingturtle> [Accessed 31 May 2020].
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