Alligator Snapping Turtle

Macrochelys temminckii
The alligator snapping turtle is the one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world and can live up to 100 years in the wild.

It has a unique worm-like appendage at the back of its mouth that it uses to lure in prey close enough to become a meal. The turtle’s tongue is bright red and shaped like a worm. The large reptile will lay motionless on the bottom of the river with its tongue displayed. Curious fish, frogs, crawfish and other prey are lured into its grey mouth, which snaps closed on the unsuspecting prey.

They have a large head and powerful beaklike jaw. Their eyes are on the side of their head, which is unique to snapping turtles. They have a spiked shell of three pronounced spiked scutes running the length of their carapace (they look a lot like an alligator’s back), as well as well as a thick, scaled tail.

These ancient reptiles are found almost exclusively in the deep rivers, swamps, canals and lakes of the southeastern United States, including the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge. Alligator snapping turtles can remain underwater for up to 50 minutes before coming up for air. The only time they come out of the water is when the females come inland to lay their eggs.

Refuge for the Alligator Snapping Turtle
In Eastern Oklahoma, this unique species was once relatively common and distributed throughout all of the area’s major river systems. Current populations have declined dramatically and now are restricted to a few remote or protected locations. Habitat alterations and overharvest have likely contributed to their declines.

Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge boasts one of the healthiest populations in the state and serves as an important study area where biologists are learning about their habitat use, distribution, home range, and age structure. Biologists work with Oklahoma State University, Missouri State University and Lincoln University to learn more.

Because of unregulated harvesting and habitat loss, the species has been listed as threatened throughout its range.

Facts About Alligator Snapping Turtle

Size: Approximately 26 inches in shell length
Weight: Males can weigh up to 175 lbs (though they have been known to exceed 220 lbs) and females typically weigh around 50 lbs.
Life Span: 50-100 years
Status: Threatened