The alligator snapping turtle, also known as Macrochelys temminckii, is one of my favorite animals at the Oklahoma Aquarium. The alligator snapping turtle is a fascinating animal, and has developed adaptations to help it attract prey. Although these turtles can cause serious harm to humans, they are generally very peaceful, and are beginning to face many threats from humans.
The alligator snapping turtle lives all across the southeastern United States, from Texas to Florida. These turtles make their homes in rivers and lakes, and are essentially aquatic, but do need to surface occasionally to breathe. However, snapping turtles can go underwater for as long as three hours without taking a breath! Since they are essentially aquatic, algae can grow on their shells, and females only come on land to lay eggs. Interestingly, the temperature of incubation of the eggs determines the gender of the offspring. If the offspring are kept at warmer temperatures, then they will be female, and eggs kept at cooler temperatures will be male. Young snapping turtles are prey to many kinds of animals, such as birds and snakes, but adults have no natural predators.
Alligator snapping turtles are similar in appearance to other turtles, but are much larger. In fact, alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtle in terms of weight. According to the Oklahoma Aquarium, alligator snapping turtles gain about one pound every year, making it very easy to estimate a snapping turtle’s age from its weight. Alligator snapping turtles have a large head, and a wide shell lined with ridges. One interesting part of the snapping turtles anatomy is the worm-like appendage on its tongue. The snapping turtle camouflages itself in rocks, and uses this appendage to lure fish in. Once the fish is close enough, the turtle will lunge forward and bite down with extreme force. Alligator snapping turtles can bite down with so much force, that they can bite off entire fingers and toes, and do extreme damage to other limbs. Alligator snapping turtles have a very large, mainly carnivorous diet, and will eat anything from worms, fish, and other turtles to snakes and birds. Also, if these turtles cannot find live prey, they will scavenge for dead fish.
Although not officially an endangered species, the alligator snapping turtle is facing some threats to its population. The main reasons for its decrease in population are due to destruction of their habitats, and overhunting. Some fishermen target this animal for its meat, and others simply to eliminate competition for game fish. Even though the alligator snapping turtle is not close to being an endangered species at the moment, if people continue to overhunt and destroy their habitats, these animals could very quickly become endangered.