Macroclemys temminckii: the Alligator Snapping Turtle

Animalia Chordata Reptilia Tertudines Chelydridae Macroclemys temminckii

Macroclemys temminckii, commonly referred to as the alligator snapping turtle, alligator snapper, loggerhead,or river loggerhead, is the largest fresh water turtle of North America. Found in rivers and swamps in the Mississippi River valley south of Illinois and the coastal plain from northern Florida to eastern Texas, the alligator snapper has been known to have a carapace up to 80cm in lenth with a mass of up to 143.3 kg (316 lbs). The average length is between 38-66 cm with a mass between 16-68 kg (Conant, 1998). Dun-colored and mostly unmarked, it is easily recognisable due to the fact that it is the only turtle with eyes on the side of its head and three large, pointy keels on its carapace (one down the vertebral column, and one on each side). The fore margine of the carapace is smooth, the rear serrate (Carr, 1952). The turtle has a reduced, hingeless plastron that is gray, a large, pointed head, hooked upper jaw, and a tail that is often as long as the carapace itself. Research on the Alligator snapper has not been going on long enough for its lifespan to be determined, but they live to be at least fifty, and can most likely live to be much older.

The alligator snapping turtle is large enough that it can not be picked up by the tail as other long tailed turtles can. Not only is this simply a difficult way to carry the turtle, but if handled this way too often, the turtle may die from vertebral damage in the tail. Instead the turtles are held behind the head and above the tail on the carapace (Carr, 1952). If this was attempted with a common snapper the handler would get biten, but since the alligator snapper is unable to twist its neck over its shell it is unable to injure the its carrier with the snapper's powerful jaws.