Alligator Snapping Turtle: Profile and Information

Alligator Snapping Turtle

The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temmicnkii) is a well-known turtle species. Alligator snapping turtles are known to live in freshwater in the United States.

The M. temminckii is one of the world’s largest turtle species in North America. It is not completely related to the common snapping turtle.

The specific epithet temminckii was named after a Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck.

Scientific classification

SpeciesM. temminckii


The alligator snapping turtle is seen to have a long, thick shell with three dorsal ridges of large scale (osteoderms) and a heavy head, giving it a primitive look of the plated dinosaurs; the Ankylosaurus.

It can be easily differentiated from the common snapping turtle, by the raised plate on the carapace and three appropriate lines of spikes. Meanwhile, the common snapping turtle has a smoother carapace.

The M. temminckii colour is sometimes black, solid grey, brown, and sometimes covered with algae. It has glowing yellow patterns circling its eyes. An alligator snapping turtle in 1937 was weighing up to 403 lb (183 kg), although it was not recorded.

The one that was captive in Shedd Aquarium in Chicago a 16-year-old giant alligator snapping turtle weighing up to 249 lb (113 kg) was sent to Tennessee Aquarium as part of a mating loan in 1999, where it died. Two others weighed up to 298 lb (135 kg) and 236 lb (107 kg).

This species doesn’t grow quite large. Sexual maturity is attained by 18 lb (8 kg), with the carapace length being around 13 in (33 cm). Adult alligator snapping turtle carapace length is from 13.8-31.8 in (35-80.8 cm) and weighing up to 19-176 lb (8.4-80 kg).

Males are bigger than females. 249 adult alligator snapping turtle weigh up to 30 lb (13.5 kg), 92 weigh up to 43.5 lb (19.72 kg), and 88 weigh up to 46.4 lb (21.05 kg). Sometimes very old male weighs up to 99 lb (45 kg).

Both sexes can be distinguished by the location of the cloaca from the carapace, and by the thickness of the bottom of the tail. An adult male cloaca goes beyond the carapace edge, but the female’s cloaca is placed on the edge or near the plastron.

The turtle mouth has a vermiform (worm-shaped) appendage on the tip of the tongue used to trick fish into its mouth. The turtle needs your total attention and has been seen to be extremely dangerous.

This species can bite a human’s hands clean off, but there is no human death caused by an alligator snapping turtle.


The alligator snapping turtle is sometimes carnivorous and an opportunistic feeder. It survives on kills made by itself and the already dead ones.

This turtle will eat anything that comes across its path like, fish, crayfish, worm, carrion, molluscs, snakes, small alligators, amphibians, aquatic plants, and other turtles.

In the research conducted in Louisiana, 79.8% of the stomach content includes other turtles. They also prey on aquatic rodents such as muskrat and nutrias or even mid-sized mammals like armadillos, opossums, squirrels, mice, and raccoons when they go near the water.

The alligator snapping turtle always hunts at night but may also hunt diurnally. By day it sits still by the bottom of the lake and opens its mouth to reveal its appendage. The tip of its tongue looks like a pink worm, which lures prey into a striking range.

The mouth then closes with speed and force, which completes the ambush. Mature alligator snapper has been known to kill small American alligators. In captivity, they eat all kinds of meat such as pork, beef, chicken, and rabbit.


Alligator Snapping Turtle

Sexual maturity is reached at the age of 12. Alligator snapping turtles are known to mate yearly. About two months after mating, females build nests that can occupy a clutch of 10-50 eggs.

The temperature dependant sex determination is used for determining the sex of the egg, and all turtle species use this method. For alligator snappers, more temperature creates more males.

The nest is about 50 yards away from the water’s edge to prevent being drowned and flooded away. Incubation occurs for least 100 – 140 days. Its total lifespan in the wild is still unknown, the alligator snapping turtle is believed to live up to 200 years. In captivity, it lives for about 20 – 70 years.

Distribution and habitat

The alligator snapping turtle has been seen mostly in the fresh waters of the Southeastern United States.

The species have been seen in western Kentucky, western Tennessee, southern Indiana, western Illinois, Southeastern Iowa, Florida Panhandle west to East Texas, and north to Southeastern Kansas, Missouri.

Nesting females do not go into open land.

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