Alligator Snapping Turtle
The alligator snapping turtle is a species of turtle native to freshwater habitats in the United States. It is one of the heaviest freshwater turtles in the world.
The alligator snapping turtle is given its common name because of its immensely powerful jaws and distinct ridges on its shell that are similar in appearance to the rough, ridged skin of an alligator.
The alligator snapping turtle is characterized by a large, heavy head, and a long, thick shell with three dorsal ridges of large scales, giving it a primitive appearance of Ankylosaurus. They have three distinct rows of spikes and raised plates on the carapace. They are a solid gray, brown, black, or olive-green in color and often covered with algae. They have radiating yellow patterns around their eyes, serving to break up the outline of the eyes to keep the turtle camouflaged. Their eyes are also surrounded by a star-shaped arrangement of fleshy, filamentous “eyelashes”.
They generally do not grow quite that large. Breeding maturity is attained around 8 kg, when the length is around 33 cm, but then they continue to grow throughout life. Excluding exceptionally large specimens, adult alligator snapping turtles generally range in carapace length from 35 to 80cm and weigh from 8 to 80 kg. Males are typically larger than females.
In mature specimens, males and females can be differentiated by the position of the cloaca from the carapace and the thickness of the tail’s base. A mature male’s cloaca extends beyond the carapace edge, a female’s is placed exactly on the edge if not nearer to the plastron. The base of the tail of the male is also thicker as compared to females because of the hidden reproductive organs.
The inside of the turtle’s mouth is camouflaged, and it possesses a vermiform appendage on the tip of its tongue used to lure fish. The turtle hunts by lying motionless in the water with its mouth wide open. The vermiform tongue imitates the movements of a worm, luring prey to the turtle’s mouth. The mouth is then closed with tremendous speed and force, completing the ambush.
Alligator snappers are opportunistic feeders that are almost entirely carnivorous. They rely on both live food caught by themselves and dead organisms which they scavenge. In general, they will eat almost anything they can catch. Fishermen have glorified the species’ ability to catch fish and to deplete fish populations, whereas in fact they largely target any abundant and easily caught prey, and rarely have any extensive deleterious effect on fish populations. Their natural diets consist primarily of fish and fish carcasses, mooluscs, amphibians, but they are also known to eat snakes, crayfish and water birds.
Alligator snapping turtles seemingly most often hunt at night. They may also hunt diurnally, however. By day, they may try to attract fish and other prey by sitting quietly at the bottom of murky water and let their jaws hang open to reveal their tongues, which look like small, pink, worm-like lures in the back of their gray mouths, and lure the prey into striking distance. Small fish, such as minnows, are often caught in this way by younger alligator snapping turtles, whereas adults must eat a greater quantity per day and must forage more actively.
Maturity is reached around 12 years of age. The female builds a nest and lays a clutch of 10–50 eggs. The sex of the young depends on the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. Nests are typically excavated at least 50 yards from the water’s edge to prevent them from being flooded and drowned. Incubation takes from 100 to 140 days, and hatchlings emerge in the early fall.
Though their potential lifespans in the wild are unknown, alligator snapping turtles are believed to be capable of living to 200 years of age, but 80 to 120 is more likely.