Alligator Snapping Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle, weighing in as much as 175 pounds; growing up to 31 inches in length. The tail can be as long as the shell. Native to the southeastern United States; the turtles are confined to river systems that drain into Gulf of Mexico.
Marine turtle ancestors predate the dinosaur. All seven living species are of conservation concern. Alligator Snapper look very primitive and have been called the dinosaur of the turtle world. What sets them apart from other snapping turtles is they have eyes on the side of their head.
Scientists have found abundant evidence that humans and marine turtles have interacted for at least 7,000 years. A wooden mask, dated possibly 1200-1400 CE, was found in southwest Florida. Made by people native to the area, its face depicts a hawksbill turtle. Due to its reproduction of large numbers of offspring, the turtle has been associated with fertility in native cultures.
Alligator Snapper or Loggerhead, are identified by three large, pronounced ridges or keels down the back of the carapace. They possess powerful jaws and a large head. Their strong limbs; sharp, oversized claws resemble the alligator- hence the name.
Male alligator snapper spent most of their time in the water. Except when you find them basking in the Florida sun on a log or rock; they stay submerged for 40-50 minutes at a time. Their natural gray, brown or black color serves as camouflage on the bottom of the river in wait for its prey.
Alligator Snapper is both a scavenger and active hunter. It most actively forages for food at night. A small, pink worm like lure dangles in the back of its gray mouth. The lure attracts fish inside and it snaps its jaws shut. If the fish aren’t biting, alligator snapper will eat frogs, snakes, crayfish, aquatic plants and [gulp] other turtles.
Turtles mate in early spring in Florida. Nesting females venture on land about two months later. The nest is called a clutch and may contain 8 to 52 eggs. The un-hatched eggs feed raccoons, birds and other forest dwellers as part of the eco system. Incubation takes fourteen to eighteen weeks.
The sex of the hatchling is determined by incubation temperature. More moderate temp produce males; females by extreme fluctuation of hot or cold. Turtles are solitary creatures. As soon as they hatch, instinct drives the hatchlings straight to the water.
How do you tell the sex of a alligator snapping turtle? Males often have fatter, bigger tails than females.
Males have the vent [ cloaca] toward the tip of the tail.
The female cloaca is closer to the shell.
Males have a concave bottom shell to fit better on top of the female during mating.
Females have a convex bottom shell to provide more space for eggs.
The only enemy of these pre-historic omnivores is man. The main threat is people who kill the reptiles for meat. The plastron [flat part of the shell] is valued for the resemblance of the shape of the cross upon it. Due to habitat loss- dredging- over harvesting; their days and numbers are dwindling.
Any time you fertilize your yard, spray poison on your lawn for bugs, wash your car, or flush your toilet, some of it goes into the local water system through ground leaching or rain run off.
It’s too late for the species that are extinct. As long as we continue to cover wetlands and chop trees down at the present rate, there isn’t much hope to save the remaining population.
It’s possible our grandchildren will look back in wonder that the ocean, seas and rivers ever supported wildlife at all.
“Think globally & act locally”