The Dinosaur of the Turtle world

In honour of International Turtle day National Geographic takes a closer look at the alligator snapping turtle

The alligator snapping turtle is North America’s largest freshwater turtle. Its spiked shell, huge beaked jaw and scaly tail are almost prehistoric looking, which is why the species is often referred to as the “dinosaur of the turtle world.”

The turtle lives in the canals, rivers and lakes of the south-eastern United States, and now almost exclusively found in the Mississippi River. The turtle will spend most of its life in the water and can stay underwater for 40- 50 minutes before needing air.

Their diet consists of fish, frogs, snakes, snails, worms, clams, crayfish, aquatic plants and even other smaller turtles. The way it entices its prey is unique. The behemoth turtle will sit motionless on the bottom of the riverbed with its mouth wide open. The turtle has a small, pink worm-like lure on the bottom of their mouth that they wiggle to lure prey. Once close enough the turtle will lunge and clamp down with its beak on the unlucky prey.

Image: alligator snapping turtle, source: Ben Britton

The turtles are patient hunters and will wait, mouths open for long stretches at a time. Often algae will grow on the back of their shells due to their sedentary nature.

The turtles spend most of their time in the water with the exception of laying their eggs. Females will lay clutches of 8-50 eggs in a hole dug 50 metres from the shoreline.  The eggs are left to incubate in the sand for 100-140 days before hatching.

Though the turtles have no natural predators, their numbers have reduced in the area due to humans who capture them for their meat, shells and to sell as exotic trade. Currently, they are listed as a threatened species in the States who are making moves to protect the species. In captivity, the turtle has a lifespan of just over 70 years.

Ben Britton is the Director of the Wild Cat Conservation Centre in the beautiful Hawkesbury, one-hour north-west of Sydney, Australia. Passionate about wildlife, Ben has more than 20 years of professional experience in animal husbandry and wildlife conservation which has taken him across the world, from reserves in Africa to sanctuaries in Asia.

To find out more about our Alligator Snapping Turtles, please contact us at 

Facebook: @wildcatcentre

Header: alligator snapping turtle, Source: Ben Britton

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