30+ Alligator (Loggerhead) Snapping Turtle Questions Answered – The Loggerhead Snapper

Alligator Snapping Turtles

Want to learn more about one of the largest turtles in the world? These prehistoric looking freshwater turtles really are intimidating at first, second, and third look. Let’s see what we can learn about them without losing any of our fingers!

GENUS: Macrochelys

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Macrochelys temminckii

COMMON NAME: Alligator Snapping Turtle, The Loggerhead Snapper

SIZE: 13.8 to 31.8 in (35 to 80.8 cm)

WEIGHT: 19 to 176 lb (8.4 to 80 kg)

TYPE: Reptile

LIFESPAN: 20 to 120

Table of Contents

1. Why are they called alligator snapping turtles?

Macrochelys temminckii are called alligator snapping turtles because their shell reminded people of the ridged skin of an alligator and because their powerful jaws will snap at prey with immense power. The specific epithet temminckii is in honor of Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck.

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2. Why are alligator snapping turtles also called loggerheads?

One look at our turtle friend will reveal why they are often called loggerhead snapping turtles. Their blocky, heavy head is a dead giveaway.

3. How long do alligator snapping turtles live?

Although it’s been speculated that they can live up to 200 years old, the realistic lifespan of alligator snapping turtles is between 80 and 120 years in the wild and 20 to 70 years in captivity.

So, how can they live for so long? There’s no specific reason why they do. There are a few theories that include slow metabolism and slow growth that enables them to age slower than other animals.

alligator snapping turtle
Alligator snapping turtle

4. Where do alligator snapping turtles live?

Alligator snapping turtles live almost exclusively in southeastern United States. From the Florida Panhandle west to East Texas, north to southeastern Kansas, Missouri, southeastern Iowa, western Illinois, southern Indiana, western Kentucky, and western Tennessee.

They are also an invasive species in South African KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, and Gauteng Provinces where they spread via pet trade and were sold at meat markets. They are a serious problem because they feed on indigenous species.

Turtles were also found in waters of the Czech Republic, Germany and Hungary where they were released or escaped.

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5. What is the habitat of the alligator snapping turtle?

They live in deep rivers, swamps, canals, and lakes where they can remain underwater for up to 50 minutes before coming up for air. Only nesting females venture onto open land.

6. How many species of alligator snapping turtles?

As of 2014, there are two species of snapping turtles in the Macrochelys genus:

  • Macrochelys suwanniensis – Suwannee snapping turtle
  • Macrochelys temminckii  – alligator snapping turtle

Before 2014, there was only one extant species recognized – the alligator snapping turtle. The Suwannee snapping turtle is a newly described species that lives in the Suwannee River that runs through South Georgia southward into Florida.

7. What does alligator snapping turtle eat?

U.S. fishermen have glorified its ability to efficiently catch fish and successfully deplete their populations. The way that they do that is that they will sit quietly at the bottom of often murky waters and stakeout the passing fish, luring them into their wide open jaws with a a worm look alike tongue appendage. Once the fish is near or in its mouth, the turtle will snap with the speed of light and catch their prey.

Apart from fish, alligator snapping turtles will also eat molluscs, crayfish, worms, amphibians, snakes, aquatic plants, fish and other dead and decaying carcasses, but also, other turtles and even small alligators.

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8. How does the alligator snapping turtle look like?

They look like something from prehistoric times. The first thing you’ll notice is the thick shell with three dorsal ridges of large scales and heavy head with scary looking jaws. They come in olive-green, black, grey or brown color and are often covered with algae because they spend so much time motionless in water waiting for prey to pass by.

Another distinct feature is the worm shaped bait inside their mouths that is used to lure fish.

9. What is the alligator snapping turtle’s size and weight?

Males are much bigger than females and there have been (unverified) reports of a loggerhead turtle weighing 403 pounds (183 kg). The largest individual on record was a 236-pounder (107 kg) in the Brookfield Zoo, Chicago.

In general, though, they can grow to a carapace length of 26 inches (66 cm) and weigh up to 176 pounds (80 kg).

The carapace is a hard shell-like upper covering that protects the bodies of animals such as tortoises and turtles.

10. What is the alligator snapping turtle’s bite force?

The most comprehensive survey of turtle bite pressures has revealed that alligator snapping turtle’s bite force was 158 newtons or 35 pounds-force. That is less than a common snapping turtle which measured at 208 newtons.

They can bite your finger (or toe) clean off and are powerful enough to bite through bamboo.

Although that’s strong, it’s not shark strong because sharks clock-in at 18,000 newtons or 4,047 pounds force!

11. Are alligator snapping turtles aggressive?

Although they look intimidating, alligator snapping turtles aren’t aggressive. That is especially true when they’re in the water and you’re in their territory. They tend to hide and lurk rather than outright chase their prey. If you encounter them outside in the open, they will defend their territory as they’re most probably there to lay eggs. If you hold them in your hands, they will keep their jaws wide open waiting for a chance to snap at you.

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12. Do alligator snapping turtles bite?

Yes, they can and will bite you if you come near their jaws. That is literally their modus operandi – waiting for prey to come to them. But if you don’t come near the jaws, they’re not prone to attack.

13. Do alligator snapping turtles make good pets?

These turtles can easily outlive you and can grow to be very big. If that is something you’re okay with, then yeah, alligator snapping turtles make good pets.

So, obviously you’ll need a big (huge) outside area with a pond to make your turtle happy. They will consume almost any kind of meat provided, including beef, chicken, rabbit, and pork, but they also need other non-meat foods. And, please watch your fingers.

14. Is the alligator snapping turtle endangered?

They are endangered and are specified as vulnerable in IUCN’s Red List as of 1996 when they were also last time assessed. They are protected by state law in several states, including Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri, and are being given international protection, effective June 14, 2006, by their addition to Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

15. Why are alligator snapping turtles endangered?

They are endangered because people hunt them for their meat and for exotic pet trade, but also because we destroy their habitats. Also, while they’re protected in some states, in others, like Oregon, they are considered an invasive species and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will kill any specimens that they encounter.

16. Do alligator snapping turtles hibernate?

Alligator snapping turtles are very cold-tolerant but they still do hibernate. They will, amazingly, not breathe for six months while in hibernation and while ice is covering their hibernation site. If they need, they can get oxygen by pushing their head out of the mud and allowing gas exchange to take place through the membranes of their mouth and throat.

Some individuals are so adept to cold temperatures that they will remain active under ice for the duration of winter.

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17. How dangerous are alligator snapping turtles?

Although they are at the top of the food chain in their environment, they are often curious and meek animals that will try to hide or swim away from you and will only try to bite you if you mess with them on purpose.

18. How big can alligator snapping turtles get?

They can get extremely big with some unverified reports stating a 403-pound beast was found in the Neosho River, Cherokee County, Kansas in 1937. The largest confirmed individual was a 236-pounder in the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.

19. Are alligator snapping turtles reptiles?

Alligator snapping turtles are turtles, and turtles are reptiles, yes. Turtles are one of the oldest reptile groups and are more ancient than snakes or crocodilians. Of the 360 known existing species, some are unfortunately highly endangered.

20. What do alligator snapping turtles do?

Alligator snapping turtles spend most of their time lurking fish in the muddy waters. Unlike other snapping turtles, alligator snapping turtles are sedentary to the point that algae covers their rough, irregular carapace making them almost invisible to fish.

They just wiggle their lure to entice unwary fish to investigate and come in or near their wide open jaws.

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21. What’s the best place to see alligator snapping turtles?

The largest freshwater turtle in the world, is found in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. You can find them in zoos all over the country, and that is probably your best bet to see one face to face without going through muddy waters and finding and catching one.

22. Can you eat alligator snapping turtles?

Not so long ago you could find Campbell’s turtle soup sitting alongside minestrone and tomato in grocery stores throughout the country. Turtle soups were so popular to the point that alligator snapping turtles were almost hunted (or rather, collected) to extinction.

The Slate writes that “One former collector reported that he and his colleagues removed several tons of these animals from one river in Georgia every day during the 1970s and only stopped when they weren’t catching enough anymore to make it worthwhile.”

So, yes, people did eat alligator snapping turtles but now that practice is illegal in many states and their meat is often full of pollution and bad for you as more and more rivers are heavily polluted.

23. What are alligator snapping turtle’s predators?

These turtles are at the top of the food chain in their environments and they’re only vulnerable when they’re still inside an egg and after they’re freshly hatched. Their eggs and hatchlings are a tasty meal for large fish, mammals like raccoons, and birds.

24. Are alligator snapping turtles diurnal or nocturnal?

The alligator snapping turtle seemingly most often hunts at night but it also hunts diurnally. So, they’re kind of a mixed bag.

25. How do alligator snapping turtles reproduce?

They are mature when they’re around 12 years old. They mate in early spring in southern part of their range, and in late spring in northern part. Two months after mating, female turtle will build a nest and lay a clutch of 10–50 eggs. The nests are typically excavated at least 50 yards from the water’s edge to prevent them from being flooded and eggs and younglings drowned. After 100 to 140 days, hatchlings emerge in the early fall.

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26. How many eggs do alligator snapping turtles hatch?

After female alligator snapping turtles build a nest, they will lay a clutch of 10-50 eggs. Nests are typically built at least 50 meters from the water’s edge to prevent them from being flooded and drowned.

A clutch of eggs is the group of eggs produced by birds, amphibians, or reptiles, often at a single time, particularly those laid in a nest.

27. When do alligator snapping turtle eggs hatch?

Hatchlings will hatch after approximately 100 to 140 days. This period is known as incubation. Little turtles will emerge from the eggs in early fall.

28. Can you pet an alligator snapping turtle?

Petting a wild alligator turtle would be very foolish. There’s a correct way to hold and handle them and it doesn’t include petting. If you’re thinking about a pet turtle, then sure, it would get accustomed to you if you raised it since being a baby. Heck, it might let you hold it and pet it without any issues. It depends on the individual animal I guess.

Small turtles can be held by the sides of the shell with relative safety, but large individuals must be held by grabbing the turtle’s shell just behind the head and in front of the tail.

29. Can you buy an alligator snapping turtle?

Alligator snapping turtles are illegal to own or keep in some states because they’re either protected as an endangered species or they’re considered an invasive species. There’s a detailed map with all the tortoise and turtle laws for each individual state here.

30. What are baby alligator snapping turtles like?

Baby snapping turtles are really cute and adorable but they grow at a rate of 1 inch per year and can reach a size of up to 32 inches. They are mostly carnivores but will eat a whole bunch of stuff. The young turtles are crazy about mealworms, guppies, and ghost shrimp. They’ll also eat a variety of home food, including bread and bologna. Chicken, beef, turkey, and fish are all good, too.

31. Alligator Snapping Turtle vs Common Snapping Turtle

Although they share some similarities, these two turtle species are really different. Let’s see how.

Name

The alligator snapping turtle is called Macrochelys temminckii and the common snapping turtle is Chelydra serpentina. They’re part of the Chelydridae family of turtles that has seven extinct and two extant genera.

Size

The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater species of turtle in North America and much larger and heavier than the common one.

Diet

The alligator snapping turtle is mostly carnivorous and it will eat almost anything it can catch. The common snapping turtle is omnivorous and eats aquatic plants as well as fish, birds, mammals and amphibians.

Habitat

The common snapping turtle, as its name implies, is more widespread. Its natural range extends from southeastern Canada, southwest to the edge of the Rocky Mountains, as far east as Nova Scotia and Florida.

The alligator snapping turtle is found primarily in waters of the southeastern United States. It is found from the Florida Panhandle west to East Texas, north to southeastern Kansas, Missouri, southeastern Iowa, western Illinois, southern Indiana, western Kentucky, and western Tennessee.

Reproduction

Common snapping turtle eggs take nine to 18 weeks to hatch, while alligator snapping turtle eggs require 14 to 20 weeks. Neither species care for their hatchlings once eggs are laid.

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Adrian Volenik

I've lived around animals my whole life and I hold a Diploma in Animal Physiology. When I'm not reading or writing about wild animals, health and fitness, and technology, you can find me playing with my son and two cats. My pastimes include running, playing video games, and solving the NY Times crossword.