Alligator snapping turtles are the coolest species of freshwater turtle in the world and Texas is a stronghold for them. Adult males reach total lengths close to five feet and wild specimens in Texas can weigh as much as 211 pounds! No other freshwater turtle in the world is as uniquely exciting or interesting as the alligator snapping turtle (AST for short). ASTs are not only unique because of their behemoth proportions No other freshwater turtle in the world posses a predatory lure inside their mouth nor does any freshwater turtle in the Western Hemisphere grows to such legendary proportions. Wild males in Texas have been documented weighing just over 200 pounds!
A majority of the AST research in Texas has been taking place during the past four years and in that time we've essentially quadrupled our knowledge regarding these lurking leviathans. Adult alligator snappers are apex predators with essentially no natural enemies. Sadly these iconic American turtles face an uncertain future. In some parts of the United States, AST populations have been decimated from over harvesting, poaching and accidental deaths from incidental bycatch. This species is also a major target for poachers. Poaching for ASTs happens for the illegal sale of meat and to Chinese turtle keepers seeking trophy pets. It is our goal to enhance awareness regarding these amazing turtles so that their future in Texas is a secure one.
Since 2018 we have been actively studying various populations of alligator snapping turtles in Texas. Our current study sites are in Cherokee, Hardin, Liberty and Tarrant counties. All of our sites involve cooperation from businesses, communities and private land owners. We are the first organization to encourage and utilize private citizen involvement to not only enhance the conservation of but the research efficacy necessary to better understand these amazing turtles. About 98% of the land in Texas is privately owned. This in itself provides a strong level of 'built in' protection for many alligator snapping turtle populations and stability for long term studies.
Our research focus with this species includes population monitoring at all of our study sites. All specimens are measured, weighed, photographed, marked with an identification transponder (when size appropriate) and released. At our Hardin County study site we are also documenting the reproductive condition of females with blood chemistry analysis and ultrasound diagnostics.
We provide the highest level of professional experience available for turtle surveys and routinely work with our supportive partners from the
Golf Center of Arlington, Green Oaks North Veterinary Clinic, the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, the River Legacy Foundation, Sea Life Aquarium in Grapevine, Dallas Zoo, the University of Houston at Clearlake, the Charlie Moorcroft Foundation and the Southwestern Center for Herpetological Research.
We have published on a variety of topics pertaining to alligator snappers including: urban populations (Munscher, et al. 2018), defensive behaviors (Franklin, et al. 2019), morphology (Franklin, et al. 2019), diet analysis (Franklin and Ricardez, 2021), human threats (Shook, et al., 2023), local ecological knowledge (Gordon, et al., 2023), diurnal behavior (Franklin, et al., 2023), the first documentation of reproduction in Texas (Franklin, et al., 2023), variation of tongue lure coloration (Glorioso, et al., 2023), age related cataracts and maximum documented size of females (Franklin, et al., 2021).
We are permitted by Texas Parks and Wildlife to capture alligator snappers for the purpose of recording data, dietary analysis, obtaining blood and tissue samples, marking with an internal transponder and salvaging deceased specimens. Should you encounter the remains of an alligator snapping turtle in the wild we would like to know. The salvage of a deceased turtle is an important source of research material.
We are Texans enthusiastically proud of the rich biodiversity in our state. It is not only our pleasure to work with these amazing turtles but an honor. Your tax-deductible donation or purchase of merchandise goes entirely to the cost of our field work.
Texas Turtles’ AST publications (2009-present)
Franklin, C.J. 2018. Graptemys sabinensis (Sabine Map Turtle). Predation. Herpetological Review 49(1):107–108.
Franklin, C.J. and E.A.P. Catalan. 2009. Geographic distribution: Macrochelys temminckii (Alligator Snapping Turtle). Herpetological Review 40(1):110.
Franklin, C.J., A. Brinker, and V. Ricardez. 2018. Macrochelys temminckii (Western Alligator Snapping Turtle) – Defensive Behavior. Herpetological Review 49(3):528.
Franklin, C.J., V. Ricardez, N. Peterson, and M. Aldecoa. 2020. Macrochelys temminckii (Alligator Snapping Turtle) – Caudal Prehensility. Herpetological Review 51(3):578—579.
Franklin, C. J. and V. Ricardez. 2021. Macrochelys temminckii (Alligator Snapping Turtle) – Lenticular opacity. Herpetological Review 52(2):393.
Franklin, C.J., V. Ricardez, and S. Scibetta. 2021. Macrochelys temminckii (Alligator Snapping Turtle) – Diet. Herpetological Review 52(4):847.
Munscher, E., J. Gray, A. Tuggle, D. B. Ligon, V. Gladkaya, C. Franklin, C. Drake, V. Ricardez, B. P. Butterfield, K. Norrid, and A. Walde. 2020. Discovery of an Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) Population in Metropolitan Houston, Harris County, Texas. Urban Naturalist No. 32.
Texas Turtle’s AST publications in review or in press
Franklin, C.J., V. Ricardez, S. Scibetta, D. Rosenbaum, and J.B. Grizzle. In review. Diurnal Observations of Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii). Submitted for review to Southeastern Naturalist Macrochelys special issue. In review.
Franklin, C.J., V. Ricardez, S. Scibetta, R. Belue, K. Sardinia, and A. White. In press. Macrochelys temminckii (Alligator Snapping Turtle) – Reproduction. Herpetological Review.
Glorioso, B.M., J.L. Carr, C.J. Franklin, M. Gordon, A. Johnson, E. Kessler, E. Munscher, L.S. Pearson, V. Ricardez, and Arron Tuggle. Accepted. Condition and Coloration of Lingual Lures of Alligator Snapping Turtles. Accepted to Southeastern Naturalist Macrochelys special issue.
Gordon, M., D.R. Bontrager, J. Watson, T. Corbett, C. Crawford, C.J. Franklin, B. Kirby, E. Munscher, V. Ricardez, and A. Tuggle. In review. Using Local Ecological Knowledge to Document Distribution and Temporal Patterns of Macrochelys temminckii in Texas. Submitted for review to Southeastern Naturalist Macrochelys special issue.
Shook, A.K., C.D. Battaglia, K.M. Enge, C.J. Franklin, J.C. Godwin, A.C. Johnson, E.J. Kessler, E. Munscher, K. Norrid, L. Pearson, V. Ricardez, D.J. Stevenson, T.M. Thomas, and J.L. Carr. In review. Direct and indirect anthropogenic threats to megafaunal chelydrid turtles, with a focus on the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). Submitted for review to Southeastern Naturalist Macrochelys special issue.
Texas Turtle’s AST presentations and outreach (non-peer reviewed)
Animal Planet. 2019. Brave the Wild: Searching For A Record Breaking Alligator Snapping Turtle In Texas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfzuatb2JHU&t=471s
Brave Wilderness. 2020. Face Off with a Giant Turtle! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Srio_ncdiYk
Garcia, K., M. Gordon, E. Munscher, A. Tuggle, C.J. Franklin, V. Ricardez, and G. Guillen. 2022. Do Anthropogenic Stressors Affect Distribution of Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) in Texas? Preliminary Study Design. Oral presentation to the 125th Annual Meeting of the Texas Academy of Science (Houston, Texas).