Alligator snapping turtle

Largest freshwater turtle in North America

Fish and Wildlife Service

One of the largest freshwater turtles in the world, a prehistoric giant that harks back to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Their monstrous appearance, characterized by their massive heads, powerful jaws with hooked beaks, and a rugged, spiky shell, has earned them the nickname “dinosaur of the turtle world.” These formidable turtles possess a unique hunting strategy; they have a specialized, worm-like appendage on their tongue, which they wiggle to mimic prey, thus luring fish into their gaping maws.

Native to the southeastern United States, alligator snapping turtles are primarily found in river systems that flow into the Gulf of Mexico. They favor deep waters with a muddy bottom, where they can camouflage themselves as they wait for unsuspecting prey. Despite their fearsome appearance, they are primarily sedentary, often remaining motionless for hours.

The sheer size of these turtles is staggering, with some individuals reaching weights of up to 90 kilograms (200 pounds) and shell lengths of 80 centimeters (31 inches). Their tails, reminiscent of their namesake alligators, are long and spiked, contributing to their ancient and formidable demeanor.

Currently, the alligator snapping turtle faces numerous challenges. Habitat destruction, primarily due to human development and water pollution, has significantly decreased suitable living conditions. Overharvesting for their meat has historically reduced their numbers in the wild.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
United States
VU
1996

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No