Alligator snapping turtle
|Alligator snapping turtle|
The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. It is often associated with, but not closely related to the common snapping turtle. They are the sole living member of the genus Macrochelys—while common snappers are in the genus Chelydra. The epithet temminckii is in honor of Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck.
Distribution and habitat
The largest freshwater turtle, the alligator snapping turtle is found primarily in southeastern United States waters. They are found from eastern Texas east to the Florida panhandle, and north to southeastern Kansas, Missouri, southeastern Iowa, western Illinois, southern Indiana, western Kentucky, eastern Ohio , western Pennsylvania, western Tennessee and northern West Virginia. 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".
There is an unverified report of a 183 kilograms (400 lb) Alligator Snapping Turtle found in Kansas in 1937, but the largest verifiable one is debatable. One weighed at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago was a 16-year resident giant alligator snapper weighing 113 kilograms (250 lb), sent to the Tennessee State Aquarium as part of a breeding loan in 1999, where it subsequently died. Another was 107 kilograms (240 lb), and housed at the Brookfield Zoo in suburban Chicago. They generally do not grow quite that large. Breeding maturity is attained at around 16 kilograms (35 lb), when the length is around 38 centimetres (15 in), but then they continue to grow through life. Adult alligator snapping turtles generally range in carapace length from 40.4 to 80.8 centimetres (15.9 to 31.8 in) and weigh from 68 to 80 kilograms (150 to 180 lb). Males are typically larger than females. Among extant freshwater turtles, only the little-known giant softshell turtles of the genera Chitra, Rafetus and Pelochelys, native to Asia, reach comparable sizes.
In mature specimens (carapace length over 30 centimetres (12 in)) male and female can be differentiated by the position of the cloaca from the carapace and the thickness of the tail's base. A mature male's cloaca extends beyond the carapace edge, a female's is placed exactly on the edge if not nearer to the plastron. The base of the tail of the male is also thicker as compared to females because of the hidden reproductive organs.
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.
Contrary to claims that alligator snapping turtles possess one of the strongest bite force of any animal, it has been recorded at 158 ± 18 kilograms-force (1,550 ± 180 N; 350 ± 40 lbf) which is lower than several other species of turtle and at about the same level as humans, relative to the turtle's body size. Still, these turtles must be handled with extreme care and considered potentially dangerous. It has been experimentally proven that this species can bite through the handle of a broom and there have been rare cases where human fingers have been cleanly bitten off by the species. No human deaths have been reported to have been caused by alligator snapping turtles.
Unlike the family Chelydridae as a whole, the genus Macroclemmys is exclusively North American and is generally considered to contain three valid species: the extant M. temminckii and the extinct M. schmidti and M. auffenbergi (described from the early middle Miocene of Nebraska and the middle Pliocene of Florida, respectively).
Alligator snappers are opportunistic feeders that are almost entirely carnivorous. They rely on both live food caught by themselves and dead organisms which they scavenge. In general, they will eat almost anything they can catch. Fishermen have glorified the species' ability to catch fish and to deplete fish populations, whereas in fact they largely target any prey that's abundant and easily caught and rarely have any extensive deleterious effect on fish populations. Their natural diet consists primarily of fish and dead fish carcasses (often ones that are thrown back into the water by fishermen), molluscs, carrion, and amphibians, but they are also known to eat snakes, crayfish, worms, water birds, aquatic plants and other turtles. In one study conducted in Louisiana, 79.8% of the stomach contents of adult alligator snapping turtles was found to be comprised by other turtles. This species may also, on occasion, predate aquatic rodents, including nutrias and muskrats or even snatch small to mid-sized mammals including squirrels, opossums, raccoons and armadillos when they attempt to swim or come to the water's edge. Alligator snapping turtles seemingly most often hunt at night. They may also hunt diurnally, however. By day, they may try to attract fish and other prey by sitting quietly at the bottom of murky water and let their jaws hang open to reveal their tongue, which looks like a small pink worm-like lure in the back of their gray mouth and literally lures the prey right into striking distance of the turtle's mouth. Small fish, such as minnows, are often caught in this way by younger alligator snapping turtles, whereas adults have to eat a greater quantity per day and must forage more actively. Though not a regular food source for them, adult Alligator snappers have even been known to kill and eat small, young American alligators.
In captivity they may consume almost any kind of meat provided, including beef, chicken and pork although these are not always healthy on a day to day basis. They will refuse to eat if exposed to extreme temperatures.
Reproduction and lifespan
Maturity is reached at around 12 years of age. Mating takes place yearly; early spring in the southern part of their total range, and later spring in the north. The female builds a nest and lays a clutch of 10–50 eggs about 2 months later. The gender of the baby alligator snapping turtles depends on the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. Nests are typically excavated at least 50 yards from the water's edge to prevent them from being flooded and drowned. Incubation takes from 100 to 140 days, and hatchlings emerge in the early fall.
Though their potential lifespans in the wild are unknown, alligator snapping turtles are believed to be capable of living to 200 years of age but 80 to 120 is more likely. In captivity, they typically live from anywhere between 20 to 70 years of age.
Alligator snapping turtles are usually captive-bred as pets and are readily available in the exotic animal trade. Due to their potential size and specific needs, they do not make particularly good pets for any but the most experienced aquatic turtle keepers.
They prefer to feed on live fish which they catch with their special technique but would readily feed on other types of meat or leafy vegetables if offered. Hand feeding is dangerous, as an alligator snapping turtle is capable of removing a finger with an errant bite. Extreme temperatures are known to affect the turtle's appetite and would result in the turtle refusing to feed until it has been remedied.
Due to their sheer size, handling adult specimens can pose significant problems. Small turtles can be held by the tail with relative safety, but large individuals must be held by grasping the turtle's shell just behind the head and in front of the tail.
Despite their reputation they are typically not prone to biting, but if provoked are quite capable of delivering a bite with their powerful jaws which can cause significant harm to a human, easily amputating fingers. Some states where alligator snapping turtles do not naturally occur (such as California) prohibit them from being kept as pets by residents.
Because of collecting for the exotic pet trade, and over harvesting for their meat, plus habitat destruction some states have imposed bans on collecting alligator snapping turtles from the wild, but they are not an endangered species. 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 3 species (which will put limits on exportation from the United States and all international trade in this species).
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|Wikispecies has information related to: Macrochelys temminckii|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Macrochelys temminckii|
- Alligator vs. Common Snapping Turtle – Chelydra.org
- Alligator Snapping Turtle Care Sheet
- CRUNCH, The Alligator Snapping Turtle