Alligator Snapping Turtle
Genus/species: Macroclemys temminckii
Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles.
They weigh between 155 and 175 pounds (70 to 80 kg). They
are characterized by three large, pronounced ridges, or
keels, that run from the front to the back of the carapace.
With powerful jaws and a large head, they are unique
among snapping turtles for having eyes on the side of the
head. The alligator snapping turtle looks very primitive
and has been called the dinosaur of the turtle world.
Alligator snapping turtles spend most of their time in the
water, and generally only nesting females venture on land.
However, males have been known to bask. They are solitary,
and there is very little social structure or parental care.
The turtles stay submerged for 40 to 50 minutes at a time,
and only go to the surface for air. They are so motionless
under water that algae may cover their backs and make the
turtles almost invisible to fish.
Distribution and Habitat
Alligator snapping turtles are native to the southeastern
region of the United States. They are confined to the river
systems that drain into the Gulf of Mexico.
They generally live in the deep water of large rivers, canals,
lakes, and swamps. Hatchlings and juveniles usually live
in small streams.
Diet in the Wild
The alligator snapping turtle is both a scavenger and an
active hunter. It most actively forages for food during
the night. During the day, it usually lies quietly in
the bottom of a dark body of water and opens its jaw to
reveal a small pink worm-like lure in the back of its
gray mouth. The lure attracts fish, and when the fish
enter the jaws, they are either swallowed whole, sliced
in two by the sharp jaws, or impaled on the sharp tips
of the upper and lower jaws. The alligator snapping turtle
eats any kind of fish and also eats frogs, snakes, snails,
worms, clams, crayfish, aquatic plants, and other turtles.
The turtles feed year round by taking advantage of warm
winter days to search for food.
They are fed mice, worms, fish, and prepared diet.
During reproduction, the male alligator snapping turtle mounts
the back of the female. He grasps her shell with all four
of his feet and inseminates her. It is unlikely that females
reproduce more than once a year, and some females lay
eggs in alternate years.
The turtles mate in early spring in Florida and late spring
in the Mississippi Valley. They nest about two months later
in a nest about 160 feet (50 m) from the shore. All
nests are dug in the sand and clutch success is highly variable.
A clutch may contain eight to 52 eggs and incubation takes
3.5 to 4.5 months. Hatchlings, therefore, emerge in the
The sex of the hatchling is determined by incubation temperature
and the hatchlings look very much like adults. Sexual maturity
occurs in 11 to 13 years.
They can live between 20 and 70 years in captivity.
There is no special status for the alligator snapping turtle.
The main threat to the alligator snapping turtle is people
who kill these reptiles for their meat.
Alligator snapping turtles play a role in freshwater ecosystems.
Adults are not a source of food for any animals other than
humans, but eggs and hatchlings are a source of food for
large fish, raccoons, and birds. The adults, however, are
important predators. Humans find them valuable for their
unique appearance and their meat.
There is an unverified legend that a 403-pound (183 kg) alligator
snapping turtle was found in the Neosho River in Kansas
Source of Information
All or part of this information was provided by the Animal Diversity Web
and Museum of Zoology of the University of Michigan.
It appears here with their permission. The original author of this information was Paul DiLaura.
For more information, including references, see the Animal Diversity Web account for this species, here:
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/ site/ accounts/ information/ Macrochelys_temminckii.html.