Alligator Snapping Turtle


Alligator snapping turtles can spend up to 50 minutes suspended motionless underwater. Usually only females come on land, when laying their eggs. They tend to move less than a few hundred feet per day and do not appear to travel far from where they were born.

Eggs and turtle hatchlings risk being eaten by raccoons, large fish, wading birds, and otters, but adult turtles have no natural predators except for humans. To defend themselves, these snappers secrete a smelly substance. They also have a very strong bite.


The alligator snapping turtle goes fishing, literally. It is the only reptile that has a worm-like appendage on its tongue, and uses it as bait to lure fish into its mouth. In addition, these omnivores eat shellfish, small mammals, birds, frogs, fruits, acorns, grasses, and other turtles. Adults have even been known to eat small alligators. Their rough, bumpy skin and shell provide good camouflage when they are sizing up a meal.

Some of My Neighbors

Raccoons, otters, frogs, snakes, alligators

Life Cycle

Depending on the turtle’s location, mating season varies from fall to spring. Snappers make their nests in sandy soil near water. The female turtle excavates the nest area with her hind legs and fills in the flask-shaped hole after laying her eggs. A clutch can number up to 44 eggs! Temperature determines the sex of the hatchlings. Hotter weather results in more female hatchlings; if the temperature is above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the clutch will be all female. After 79 to 107 days, the turtles hatch, looking like mini-adults. They grow rapidly until they reach maturity at around 12 years of age. Alligator snapping turtles typically live for up to 70 years in zoos, and some can live even longer.

Population Status & Threats

The alligator snapping turtle is considered a vulnerable species. These turtles have been heavily trapped for meat for consumers both inside and outside the U.S. Habitat loss and pesticide use also threaten these reptiles. Every state with alligator snappers has restrictions for hunting them.

WCS Conservation Efforts

WCS works to save turtles and tortoises throughout the world, researching the ecological needs of various species and working with governments to limit trade.

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