Wednesday 10 October 2012

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Image: USFWS/Southeast via Flickr
Macrochelys temminckii
SNAP! But it's the wrong kind of SNAP!

Image: tinali778 via Flickr
The Alligator Snapping Turtle is quite the big, bitey brute. From beaky head to long, scaly tail it looks like something that was supposed to have died out millions of years ago, but survived through sheer force of anger and crankiness.

Between head and tail is a craggy shell covered in three rows of spikes. The shell alone can reach up to 80 cm (31 in) long in a really large male. Females are smaller and an unusually small adult may have a shell just 40 cm (16 in) long. That's still over a foot, so you shouldn't point and laugh. Never point and laugh at an Alligator Snapping Turtle! They REALLY don't like it!

Coming from the warm rivers and lakes of south-eastern United States, the Alligator Snapping Turtle is the biggest freshwater turtle in North America and amongst the biggest in the world. And yet, strange as it may seem, a lot of creatures initially think it's a tiny worm! Unfortunately, they often don't get a chance to re-evaluate their first impression.

Image: hspauldi via Flickr
Tiny worm tongue!
We're talking about the Alligator Snapping Turtle's remarkable tongue. It has a little, fleshy appendage that looks just like a worm, something of great culinary interest to many amphibians and fish. The rest of the turtle looks like it was chiselled from stone and given life by powerful magic. In other words, it's one big dollop of camouflage.

At the bottom of the lake, our Alligator Snapping Turtle sits unseen among the stones, dead leaves and mud. His mouth gapes open as his wormy tongue wriggles suggestively. A nearby frog is intrigued by this tongue. He likes the look of it. He thinks maybe he'll eat it. That would be nice! As he approaches the tongue, the turtle watches and waits.

Image: brian.gratwicke via Flickr
Once the frog is close enough, the Alligator Snapping Turtle's head lunges forward, his neck stretching to a disheartening degree. The frog watches as the worm suddenly approaches at a shocking rate. SNAP goes the turtle. SQUISH goes the frog.

Image: Semi-Automatic Gwen via Flickr
And that's why little boys and girls must never point and laugh at Alligator Snapping Turtles. Maybe you can laugh, but definitely don't point. Those jaws can take a finger off, and the stretchiness of the neck is something best beheld from a distance.

Females leave the water to lay their eggs each year and dig their nests far enough away to ensure they won't get flooded. The eggs hatch 3 or 4 months later and it will be about 12 years before the hatchlings produce young of their own.

Alligator Snapping Turtles are thought to live for more or less 100 years in the wild and a few might even reach 200! So definitely don't feed them your fingers nor anyone else's. If one of them gets a taste for human flesh it'll be around for decades!


TexWisGirl said...

i do not like snapping turtles. cold-eyed, prehistoric beasts that break legs on adult ducks and snatch ducklings from the pond's surface like plucking popcorn.

Joseph JG said...


Crunchy said...

We have snapping turtles all over the place where I live. First thing I learned about snapping turtles was that you have to pick them up by the tail, because they have a LONG, long neck, and if you pick them up by the sides of the shell (like you do with a reasonable turtle), you will get bitten, and it will not let go.

Joseph JG said...

Yikes! It's always interesting to think of all the dangerous, local animals people have to learn about at an early age. I guess Australians are given an encyclopaedia set?

Crunchy said...

No time to cover everything! They just have lots of kids and hope for the best.

Joseph JG said...

Haha! I guess you could call it traditional.

Porakiya said...

I just found a video telling some very useful information about their lifespan on youtube:

Joseph JG said...

I remember that one, scary stuff!

BK said...

These things can kill and eat porcupines.

Joseph JG said...

Yeah, you don't want to mess with one of these guys! Or even get particularly close.