ISSN 2398-2985  

Alligator snapping turtle


Vetstream Ltd

Kirsty Dewhurst

Synonym(s): Macrochelys temminckii


Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia.
  • Phylum: Chordata.
  • Class: Reptilia.
  • Order: Testudines.
  • Suborder: Cryptodira.
  • Family: Chelydridae.
  • Genus: Macrochelys.
  • Species: M. temminckii.

Distribution and habitat

  • Primarily predominant in southeastern United States waters, the alligator snapping turtle can be found in:
    • The Florida Panhandle west to East Texas.
    • North to southeastern Kansas.
    • Missouri.
    • Southeastern Iowa.
    • Western Illinois.
    • Southern Wisconsin.
    • Southern Indiana.
    • Western Kentucky.
    • Western Tennessee.
  • They favor habitats such as deep-water rivers, canals, lakes or swamps.
  • They rarely leave the water, as they are exceptionally good at holding their breath. Usually only nesting females will travel onto open land.

Species status

  • Registered under the IUCN as vulnerable.
  • They are still under threat due to the market for their meat, shells, and for animal trade in many areas.
  • Alligator snapping turtle soup was once highly available in American stores.
  • The capture of these animals is prohibited in some states, but is allowed in others by permit holders.
  • Loss of habitat and water pollution also contribute to this animal's status.

Life span

  • In the wild it's thought they live between 20-70 years.
  • In captivity, the age can average from 20 years plus; there is potential for them to reach 70 years of age, similar to that in the wild.


  • Nearly entirely carnivorous.
  • They will mostly feed off live prey, however will also consume dead prey if it is there for the taking Chelonia nutrition.
  • It the wild, their normal diet consists of anything from fish, fish carcasses, mollusks, carion and amphibians. This being said, they will eat a variety of foods depending on what they can catch which can include snakes, crayfish, worms and other turtles. They may also prey on aquatic rodents, other mammals and some aquatic plants too.
  • In captivity, they can be fed fish and earthworms as young.


  • Macrochelys temminckii: native to North America.
  • Macrochelys apalachicolae: lives in the Apalachicola River and native to Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
  • Macrochelys suwanniensis: lives in the Suwannee River and native to Florida and Georgia.


  • Breeding maturity is around 11-12 years of age Chelonia reproduction.
  • Mating takes place yearly, usually during early spring in the Florida regions, then later spring in northern areas.
  • Females lay a clutch of 8-60 eggs.
  • Nests are normally created at least 45-50 m from the water’s edge to avoid flooding and drowning.
  • Incubation takes between 100-140 days, and hatchlings usually arrive in the early fall.
  • Sex of the young can be made by keeping the eggs incubated at a lower temperature to produce males, and a higher temperature produces females.

As pets

  • Not recommended.
Must be handled with extreme care. Hand feeding is dangerous.
  • Individuals must be held by grasping the sides of the shell, not near the mouth area.

Predatory behavior

  • Hunts by lying motionless in the water with its mouth wide open.
  • Hunts mainly at night, however during the daytime they may try to attract fish and other prey using a ‘sit and wait’ method. They use their tongue to imitate a worm and their movements, which attracts potential prey and lures them near the turtles mouth.
  • The alligator snapping turtle has a very powerful jaw and strong bite.

Biological Data

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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • T Thomas et al (2014) Taxonomic assessment of Alligator Snapping Turtles (Chelydridae: Macrochelys), with the description of two new species from the southeastern United States. Zootaxa 3786 (2), 141-165 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • All the Turtles (2018) Alligator Snapping Turtle Care Guide. Website: Last accessed 11th June 2018.
  • Reptile Magazine (2018) Alligator Snapping Turtle. Website: Last accessed 11th June 2018.
  • Wildlife Epidemiology Labratory (2018) Alligator Snapping Turtle Health. Website: Last accessed 11th June 2018.
  • National Geographic (2015) Alligator Snapping Turtle. Website: Last accessed 11th June 2018.
  • Tait N et al (2015) The Encyclopedia of Reptiles Amphibians & Invertebrates. Red Lemon Press, UK. pp 31.
  • Hall D (2011) The Ultimate Guide to Snakes & Reptiles. Hermes House, UK. pp 90, 100, 123.
  • Wildscreen Arkive (2008) Alligator Snapping Turtle. Website: Last accessed 29th January 2018.
  • O'Shea M & Halliday T (2002) Reptiles & Amphibians. 2nd edn. Dorling Kindersley, UK. pp 50.
  • Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (1996) Macrochelys temminckii. Website: Last accessed 11th June 2018.
  • IPFW. Alligator Snapping Turtle. Website: Last accessed 11th June 2018.

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