Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macroclemys temminckii)
Order: Testudines, Family: Chelydridae
Nearctic: Alligator snapping turtles are native to the southeastern region of the United States. They are confined to the river systems that drain into the Gulf of Mexico.
I. GEOGRAPHIC RANGE
II. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
- Nearctic: Alligator snapping turtles are native to the southeastern region of the United States. They are confined to the river systems that drain into the Gulf of Mexico.
III. FOOD HABITS
- Mass: 70 to 80 kg.
- The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world. It is characterized by three large, pronounced ridges that run from the front to the back of the carapace. It has powerful jaws and a large head, and it is unique among snapping turtles for having eyes on the side of its head. The alligator snapping turtle looks very primitive and has been called the dinosaur of the turtle world.
- The alligator snapping turtle is both a scavenger and an active hunter. It most actively forages for food during the night. During the day, it usually lies quietly in the bottom of a dark body of water and opens its jaw to reveal a small pink worm-like lure in the back of its gray mouth. The lure attracts fish, and when the fish enter the jaws, they are either swallowed whole, sliced in two by the sharp jaws, or impaled on the sharp tips of the upper and lower jaws. The alligator snapping turtle eats any kind of fish and also eats frogs, snakes, snails, worms, clams, crayfish, aquatic plants, and other turtles. The turtles feed year round by taking advantage of warm winter days to search for food.
- During reproduction, the male alligator snapping turtle mounts the back of the female. He grasps her shell with all four of his feet and inseminates her. It is unlikely that females reproduce more than once a year, and some females lay eggs on an alternate-year basis. The turtles mate in early spring in Florida and late spring in the Mississippi Valley. They nest about two months later in a nest approximately 50 meters from the shore. All nests are dug in the sand and clutch success is highly variable. A clutch may contain 8 to 52 eggs and incubation takes 100 to 140 days. Hatchlings, therefore, emerge in the fall. The sex of the hatchling is determined by the incubation temperature and the hatchlings look very much like adults. Sexual maturity occurs in 11 to 13 years.
- Alligator snapping turtles spend most of their time in the water, and generally only nesting females venture on land. They are solitary, and there is very little social structure or parental care. The turtles stay submerged for 40 to 50 minutes at a time, and only go to the surface for air. They are so motionless under water that algae can cover their backs and make the turtles almost invisible to fish.
VII. ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE FOR HUMANS
- Alligator snapping turtles live in freshwater areas in the southeastern United States. They generally live in the deep water of large rivers, canals, lakes, swamps, and rivers. Hatchlings and juveniles usually live in small streams.
- Biomes: freshwater lake, freshwater rivers
- Alligator snapping turtles play a role in freshwater ecosystems. Adults are not a source of food for any animals other than humans, but eggs and hatchlings are a source of food for large fish, racoons, and birds. The adults, however, are important predators. Humans find them valuable for their unique appearance and their meat.
IX. OTHER COMMENTS
- The main threat to the alligator snapping turle is humans, who these reptiles for their meat.
- There is an unverified legend that a 403 lb alligator snapping turtle was found in the Neosho River in Kansas in 1937.