Alligator Snapping Turtle
Macroclemys temminckii

CLASS: Reptilia
ORDER: Chelonia
FAMILY: Chelydridae

SIZE:
Length, can reach to 3 feet; weight, over 200 lbs. Largest fresh water turtle in North America.

RANGE:
Lower Mississippi River, gulf states and around Florida to the Suwanne River

HABITAT:
River, marshland, swamps

DIET:
Wild - Omnivore -- fish and other water animals, vegtation, dead animal matter (carrion)

Zoo - Fish, other meats such as chicken, beef, horse

ADAPTATIONS:

  • Well camouflaged to live in murky, dark water
  • Has "decoy" worm on its tongue which it uses to catch fish while it lies still on the muddy bottom
  • Extremely powerful jaws
  • Remains underwater good portion of the time, but is able to travel on land supported by thick muscular legs. Breathes with lung -- must come to the surface for air.
  • Hibernates in groups of up to 15 animals

FACTS:

  • Life span of 35 - 40 years (if not eaten first)
  • Largest North American fresh water turtle. Gets name "alligator" from its tail.
  • Poor swimmer -- walks on bottom -- waits for prey instead of pursuit but will go in search of food if necessary.

LOUISIANA:
Commercial fisherman in Louisiana capture alligator snapping turtles with a baited hook mostly by trot line fishing. Some skilled fisherman however probe the water's bottom with a long pole and then use a metal hook to grab it. Overkilled in Louisiana; population seriously depleted.

HANDLING:
Lift by grasping anterior and posterior ends of carapace. Grasping and holding by tail can injure turtle's vertebrae column.

YOUNG:
Lays 17-40 round eggs in nest/hole in ground near water source. Female digs hole 20 inches deep and 1 foot around with hind feet; covers eggs by filling in hole. Eggs hatch 10 weeks later in late summer. Turtles find their way to water instinctively.

STATUS:
Vulnerable; protected in some states; suffers from over hunting.