Although this turtle probably isn’t more than about 10-12 years old, I thought it looked very ancient and prehistoric, thus the name Ancient One!
The Alligator Snapping Turtle, Macroclemys temminckii, is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. It is a larger and less aggressive relative of the Common Snapping Turtle.
The largest freshwater turtle in North America, the alligator snapper keeps to primarily southern U.S. waters, while the smaller, more aggressive common snapper inhabits lakes and streams from South America to Canada. These turtles can remain submerged for three hours. Typically only nesting females will venture onto open land.
The Alligator Snapping Turtle is characterized by a large, heavy head, and a long, thick shell with three dorsal ridges of large scales (osteoderms) giving it a primitive appearance reminiscent of some of the plated dinosaurs. They can be immediately distinguished from the Common Snapping Turtle by the three distinct rows of spikes and raised plates on the carapace, whereas the Common Snapping Turtle has a smoother carapace . They are a solid gray, brown, black, or olive-green in color, and often covered with algae. They have radiating yellow patterns around the eyes, serving to break up the outline of the eye and keep the turtle camouflaged. Their eyes are also surrounded by a star-shaped arrangement of fleshy filamentous “eyelashes.”
The inside of the turtle’s mouth is camouflaged, and it possesses a vermiform (literally, “worm-shaped”) appendage on the tip of its tongue used to lure fish, a form of Peckhamian mimicry. The turtle hunts by lying motionless in the water with its mouth wide open. The vermiform tongue imitates the movements of a worm, luring prey to the turtle’s mouth. The mouth is then closed with tremendous speed and force, completing the ambush.
The Alligator Snapping Turtle possesses the second strongest bite strength of any animal in the world, and can be quite aggressive when cornered.
The alligator snapping turtle is primarily vulnerable to humans from habitat loss and hunting. Some are hunted for their carapaces; the plastron of the turtle is valued because of its shape as a cross. There are accounts of large (50+ lb) turtles being caught both purposely and accidentally on recreational fishing lines called “trot lines.” Abandoned trot lines are thought to be even more dangerous to turtles. Soup made from snapping turtle meat is considered by some to be a delicacy.
This turtle is protected from collection throughout much of its range. The IUCN lists it as a threatened species, and as of June 14, 2006 it was afforded some international protection by being listed as a CITES III species (which will put limits on exportation from the United States and all international trade in this species.).
The alligator snapping turtle is now endangered in several states, including Illinois.
Dreher Park Zoo, Palm Beach, FL
Proceeds from the sale of this image will be donated to the US Fish & Wildlife Service to help with their conservation efforts.
70-300mm @ 110mm
8/24/09 – 594/137