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Alligator Snapping Turtle

Macrochelys temminckii

ON EXHIBIT:  Delta Swamp and Turtle Gallery in River Journey

Alligator Snapping Turtle


Alligator snapping turtles live in rivers whose water drains into the Gulf of Mexico. The adults hunt in the deep water of rivers, lakes, swamps, ponds and bayous where plants and algae enhance their camouflage. Best known for an adaptation that allows it to lure fish into its mouth, the alligator snapper is a bottom dweller that surfaces to breathe. To catch a fish, the turtle will sit very still in the depths of a pond or river for up to 50 minutes. There it waits patiently, holding its mouth open and wiggling the small, pink, worm-like appendage on its tongue to lure passing fish. And if a fish sees the fake worm and swims in to eat it...Wham! The fish becomes the dinner instead of the diner!

IUCN: Vulnerable. Once heavily collected for its meat, the alligator snapping turtle is protected in all of the states where it lives. Populations have been seriously impacted due to overharvesting.

Fan Photo

Photo by Bill Hughes

About This Animal

SIZE: Males to 250 lbs (113.4 kg), Females to 50 lbs (22.7 kg)

RANGE: Gulf of Mexico drainage basins of the southeastern United States

HABITAT: Large rivers, bayous and lakes

DIET: Freshwater mollusks, fish, turtles, small vertebrates and carrion