Common names: Alligator snapper,
Loggerhead, River loggerhead
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Reptilia
Order - Chelonia or Testudines
Family - Chelydridae
Circadian Cycle - Nocturnal:
The Alligator Snapping Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world. These turtles can measure from 15 inches to over 30 inches in length. Their weight upon maturity can range from 35 to over 200 pounds. Males are typically larger than females. The tail on this turtle can be as long as its shell. The large shell is rough and three-keeled, meaning it has 3 pronounced ridges running from front to back. It has a large head with a hooked "beak" and very powerful jaws. The eyes are on the sides of their heads unlike the Common Snapping Turtle whose eyes are situated on the top of their heads. These turtles can be gray, brown, or black in color.
This gigantic turtle can be found from Southern Georgia to Northern Florida, west to Central Texas and up to the north in Southwest Indiana, Illinois, Kansas and the Mississippi Valley.
These turtles enjoy the deep waters of larger rivers, lakes, swamps, bayous and canals. They can be found along the banks of these waterways, but they spend most of their time submerged under water concealed in the mud floor.
An omnivore, this snapping turtle usually forages for food at night. They will eat almost anything. Their favorite food is fish, but they will eat snakes, frogs, clams, carrion, other turtles and aquatic vegetation.
These turtles lay anywhere from 9 to 52 eggs in a single clutch. These eggs are 1.25 - 2 inches in diameter. Alligator Snapping Turtles mate in the Spring and a nest made up of mostly sand is built about 2 months later. The eggs incubate between 100 - 140 days. Only one clutch is produced by females each year. Temperature determines the sex of the offspring -- high and low temperatures yield more females and moderate temperatures yield more males. Sexual maturity is reached between 11 and 13 years of age.
Alligator Snapping Turtles have lived up to 70 years in captivity. The life span of this species in the wild is not known.
This turtle has a pink, tongue-like appendage in its mouth which it wiggles while open-mouthed to lure unsuspecting fish. When the fish swim in to eat the "worm", the turtle is the one receiving a meal!
Since the coloration of the Alligator Snapping Turtle is gray, brown, or black, they blend in quite nicely with the mud in the river bottoms. This camouflage coupled with the "worm" lure makes this snapping turtle a very successful fisherman, as long as the fish population does not dwindle.
The IUCN lists this species as vulnerable.
This species may be well on their way to the Endangered Species List unless some management efforts are put into effect. Currently the populations of these great turtles are shrinking, mainly due to hunting. They are hunted for their meat and body parts.
Article contributed by Lori Hamlett
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