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Alligator Snapping Turtle

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Macroclemys temminckii                                      Photo Fiona Sunquist ©


Snapping turtles are large, primitive-looking turtles with massive heads, powerful hooked beak-like jaws and a long tail nearly as long as the shell. They have a large head and heavily sculptured shell marked with three pyramid-shaped ridges. The head cannot be retracted into the shell. The eyes are on the side of the head rather than on the top – as they are in the common snapping turtle, and the eye is surrounded by a star- shaped arrangement of fleshy eyelashes. A key distinguishing characteristic is the small, pink, worm-like projection on the floor of the mouth .

The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater snapping turtle in the world. Adults commonly weigh 70-80 kg with carapace lengths of about 66 cm (26 inches). A record specimen weighed 107 kg (235 lbs) and had a carapace length of 80 cm (31.5 inches)

Alligator snapping turtles spend most of their lives underwater, lurking on the bottom of lakes, swamps and slow moving rivers. Their lifestyle is so sedentary that their shell often acquires a thick growth of algae. They stay submerged for 40-50 minutes at a time and only surface for air.

They are scavengers and predators, feeding on carrion, fish, insects and waterfowl. These turtles lie on the bottom of rivers and ponds with jaws wide open, wriggling the pink worm-like lure to entice fish to approach.

They can be highly aggressive and large individuals have been known to cause injury to unwary swimmers. When on land they move slowly but they will not hesitate to strike if picked up or disturbed. When molested, these turtles can release a strong odor from their musk glands. Rather than basking in the sun like most turtles, snappers prefer to rest in shallow water, sometimes buried under a thin layer of mud, with only their eyes and nostrils exposed.

Alligator snappers reach sexual maturity at 11-13 years of age. In Florida they mate in early spring. Females dig a nest in the sand and lay a single clutch of 8-52 eggs. The eggs hatch in 100-140 days.

The alligator snappers strong jaw and hooked beak are usually enough to deter potential predators. A large alligator snapper can easily sever a human finger with a single chomp. Human hunters for the market and personal consumption are the greatest threat to this species – alligator snapper meat sells for about $20.00 a pound. Joe Roman, a former UF graduate student conducted a survey of turtle meat at restaurants along the gulf coast and found, through DNA analysis of meat samples, that most turtle meat on the menu at restaurants was NOT alligator snapper.



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Wildlife of Florida 2011
Wildlife of Florida 2011
Fiona Sunquist
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Wildlife of Florida: Lizards
Fiona Sunquist
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