Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii): Listed as a Threatened Species.  This species is illegal to capture, possess or own without proper permits issued by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department..

IDENTIFICATION15-26 inches (38-66 cm).  Not including the leatherback sea turtle, this is the largest species of turtle occuring in North America and some captive specimens have been known to exceed 250 pounds (*** kg).  Unlike its relative the common snapping turtle, Macrochelys  has a short neck bedecked with several fleshy tubercles, an enormous head, highly serrated carapace and marginal scutes and as strongly cusped beak.  The bridge is narrow and the cruciform plastron is small.  The eyes are surrounded by a series of fleshy tubercles often creating the appearance of a star-like pattern.  The interior of the mouth is drab colored often matching the color of the flesh.  The tongue is brightly colored pink, small and bifurcated.  No other living species of turtle posseses such a tongue.  The basal coloration of the carapace is chestnut to drab brown.  The head, neck, limbs and tail are drab olive to dark tan.  In older specimens the head tends to lighten in coloration ranging from beige to ivory.

GEOGRAPHIC DISTRIBUTION :  The alligator snapping turtle occupies a geographic range that includes southwestern Georgia, northern Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, eastern Oklahoma, extreme southeastern Kansas, southwestern and eastern Illinoisin the Mississippi Valley to Iowa and southwestern Kentucky.  However, specimens may be difficult to locate in portions of their historic range as the construction of dams, commercial collecting, habitat loss and pollution have made a negative impact on alligator snapping turtle populations.

BEHAVIOR AND ECOLOGY:   Alligator snapping turtles are aquatic bottom dwellers.  They have been found in a variety of environs including lakes, oxbows, bayous, deep rivers, canals, creeks, ponds and even brackish estuaries.  This species is an opportunistic feeder known to consume a wide variety of food items such as: acorns, briar roots, various aquatic plants, insects, mollusks, fish, salamanders, frogs, turtles, snakes and mammals.  Despite the varied diet, this turtle isbest known for its ability to lure unsuspecting fish into its mouth.  This is accomplished by holding the mouth agape and wriggling a brightly colored potion of the tongue in a manner similiar to a convulsing and drowning worm.  When the fish moves in for a closer inspection the mouth is slammed shut, water expeled through the nostrils and the fish is swallowed.  Another feature possessed by this turtle is the recurved cusp at the end of the beak.  This characteristics is undoubtedly useful for securing struggling fish.  Adults can stay submerged for intervals of 30 to 50 minutes.  Occasionally, submerged specimens can be seen gulping water and expelling it through their nostrils.  This behavior is suggestive of phayngeal respiration which involves a gaseous exchange across capillary rich surfaces in the throat..

    Females do not reach the behemoth proportions exemplified by old males.  Females are distinguishable from males by having a cloacal opening that does not extend beyond the posterior margins of the carapace.  Females can lay as many as 50 eggs per clutch.  INcubation temperatures ranging from 20-25 degrees Centigrade have resulted in incubation times of 79 to 107 days (Ernst, et al., 1994).  The average incubation period for eggs hatched under captive conditions is roughly 80 days.  Upon hatching, alligator snapping turtles average 38 mm in carapace length.

This 16 year old male specimen was hatched in captivity in 1991
The drab interior of the mouth is offset by the bright pink tongue.
Alligator snapping turtles are rather calm when underwater and left alone.  After tiring of a session for the camera, this specimen agressively began to charge the photographer with an open mouth.
In 2002 the Tennessee Aquarium experienced success in the captive breeding Alligator snapping turtles.

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