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Episode 31: The Prehistoric Alligator Snapping Turtle

The Alligator Snapping Turtle is one of the most misunderstood animals on earth. Many fear these animals mainly due to their primitive looks or incredible bite force, but in reality these turtles are docile and want to be left alone. Native to the United States the Alligator Snapping Turtle is facing extinction due to many different pressures.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Origins

Alligator Snapping Turtles more common scientific name is Marcochelys temminckii. Recent DNA evidence proposes two new species of Alligator Snapping Turtle:

  • Western Florida Marchochelys apalachicolae
  • Eastern Florida/Georgia Marchochelys suwanniensis

Turtle evolution spans over 220 million years and are considered ancient animals. Current theory proposes turtles evolved with archosaurs (crocodile like animals) over this span of time. The earliest turtle fossils show animals with interlocking plates that eventually evolved into a complete shell. The Alligator Snapping Turtle evolved over the past few million years exclusively in North America.

The largest turtle ever to live is called Stupendemys, which lived over 5 million years ago in South America. These creatures were almost 11 feet (3.5 meters) in length. A fossil can be seen at the American Natural History Museum in New York.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Facts

  • Can live up to 100 years
  • Males weigh up to 220 lb (100 kg) and shells as long as 26 in (65 cm)
  • Females weigh up to 50 lbs (23 kg) and shells as long as 15 in (30 cm)
  • Very docile and sedentary
  • Carnivorous
    • Use a specialized tongue like a “lure” to attract fish and crustaceans
    • Great sense of smell to search for fish
    • May eat plants, clams or even other turtles
  • Eggs are temperature dependent
    • Low temperatures = males
    • High temperatures = females
    • Evidence some eggs are completely temperature independent and are female




Alligator Snapping Turtle Conservation

The Alligator Snapping Turtle is listed as endangered. With possibly 3 species they may be even more so. Any sort of ecological disaster could wipe them out for good. They are experiencing many pressures in the wild to include:

  • Hunting for meat
  • Habitat destruction
  • Taken for pet trade
  • Even turtles swallowing fishing hooks and lines

Organizations to Support

Turtle Conversancy

The Turtle Room


May 15, 2018

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