Top 10 Alligator Snapping Turtle Facts – A Very Snappy Turtle

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Quick Facts

Scientific Name:  Macrochelys temminckii

Common Names: Alligator Snapping Turtle

Geographic Range: United States

Life Span: 20 – 70+ Years

Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Alligator Snapping Turtle with its mouth open wide

Top 10 List

1. These Turtles Are The Largest Freshwater Turtles In North America

A large alligator snapping turtle.

The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in North America. They can grow up to 2.5 feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds.

Their overall colouring is a solid gray, brown, black, or olive green, with radiating yellow patterns around the eyes which help with camouflage. They have a thick shell often covered in algae, as well as 3 dorsal ridges of large scales along the back, that look quite spikey and rough. Their large, heavy head is made up of powerful jaws and a hooked beak, and their eyes are surrounded by fleshy filaments that look a lot like eyelashes. Add on a long strong tail and bear like claws, and you have one powerful turtle.

2. They Have A Unique Way Of Attracting Food

Alligator Snapping Turtle Showing Off Its Worm like Tongue
Alligator Snapping Turtle Showing Off Its Worm-Like Tongue

Alligator snapping turtles are opportunistic feeders, with the majority of their diet being made up of meat. The majority of that meat is fish, however they will also consume things such as other turtles, frogs, snakes, snails, worms, clams, crayfish, and occasionally aquatic plants.

These turtles have a unique way off attracting their prey close to them. They will hang out at the bottom of the water, quietly waiting with their mouth hanging open. This reveals a lure like tongue, that is small, pink, and almost resembles a worm. Once the fish have been lured into striking distance they will grab them.

3. The Temperature Determines The Gender Of The Babies

A young baby alligator snapping turtle.
A Young Alligator Snapping Turtle

Alligator Snapping Turtles are considered mature and ready to mate at around 11 or 12 years of age. Mating season is throughout the spring, and 2 months after mating the female will build a nest to lay anywhere between 10 – 52 eggs. The temperature of the eggs during their incubation time of 100 – 140 days will play a huge part on the sex of the babies. Moderate temperatures produce males, and super high or super low temperatures will produce females. While adult snapping turtles do not have many enemies, eggs and hatchlings are vulnerable to large fish, birds, and raccoons.

4. They Are Primarily Found In Southeast American Waters

Alligator Snapping turtle in the water.

Alligator Snapping Turtles are primarily found in various Southeast American waters. This includes different types of rivers, lakes, swamps, and canals. They are almost fully aquatic turtles, very rarely venturing onto the land.

5. Their Common Name Really Suits Them 

The name alligator snapping turtle came from the fact that this turtle has powerful jaws and a long spring-like neck. They also have distinct ridges on their shells that are a similar texture and appearance to that of the alligators rough and rigid skin.

Their specific name ‘temminckii’ was in honour of of Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck, who had many animals named in his honour.

6. Alligator Snapping Turtles Are Sometimes Kept As Pets

A person holding an alligator snapping turtle the correct way,
How To Properly Hold An Alligator Snapping Turtle

Alligator snapping turtles are readily available in the exotic pet trade, with some being captive bred, and others not. Due to their large size, specific needs, and strength, they are only good pets for the most experienced and capable aquatic turtle keepers. They will feed on almost any meat offered to them in captivity, such as beef, chicken, and pork, with fish being their favourite.

While it may seem fun, we’d like to note that hand-feeding these turtles is not a good idea. While they are not overly aggressive or prone to biting by nature, if provoked or annoyed enough they can and will deliver a bite that is easily capable of severing fingers and causing severe damage. To ensure safety of the individual holding them, they should only be held/carried by firmly grasping the shell behind their head and above their tail.

It’s also important to note that many places ban them as pets, so a check if keeping them is legal in your area is important before you try to buy one.

7. They Are Considered An Invasive Species By Many Places

If set free, or allowed to escape, alligator snapping turtles can quickly become an invasive species. In Germany, Bavaria, one caused injury to a child, but was never caught. Four have also been caught in Bohemia, Czech. Both of these countries are part of the EU, where it is illegal to keep invasive species such as the alligator snapping turtle without permission, so those turtles should not have been there to begin with.

8. Alligator Snapping Turtles Are A Threatened Species

The population of alligator snapping turtles has started dwindling due to over collection for the exotic pet trade, harvest for their meat, and habitat loss and water pollution. Due to this, they have been placed on the IUCN list under threatened species. As well, protective laws have been put in place in various US states to keep the population safe. They are also listed as a CITES III species, meaning that a limit is put on exportation from the United States, and international trade.

9. Alligator Snapping Turtles And Common Snapping Turtles Are Often Mixed Up

A common snapping turtle and an alligator snapping turtle beside each other.
Common Snapping Turtle (Left) and Alligator Snapping Turtle (Right)

The common snapping turtle and alligator snapping turtle are sometimes confused for each other. While both the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle are part of the family Chelydidae, and are both freshwater aquatic turtles that can be found throughout the United States, they are still quite different from each other.

There are a few key differences that will help easily identify them properly. Alligator snapping turtles have a rough, “spikey” shell, a triangular shaped head from above, a worm like lure in their mouth, and fleshy “eyelashes”. The common snapping turtle has a smooth shell, oval shaped head from above, and no lure or eyelashes.

10. Despite Being Aquatic Turtles, They Actually Don’t Do Much Swimming

Alligator Snapping Turtles are almost totally aquatic turtles. They will only come out of the water to bask in the sun to warm up, and females will come ashore to build a nest for her eggs. Despite spending most of their time in the water, they don’t actually swim much. They prefer to walk along the waters floor.

These turtles will spend most of their night walking along the bottom of the water in search of food. Most of their daytime is spent hiding in submerged logs or plants roots. They can stay underwater for up to 50 minutes at a time, which may seem long to us, but compared to other turtle species is actually quite short.

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