Alligator Snapping Turtle – quick facts

alligator snapping turtle baby

Often confused for one another the prehistoric looking Alligator Snapping Turtle and the more widespread Common Snapping Turtle are two very distinct species. Yes it is true that they both share similarities in appearance but everything from their temperament to the way they hunt are completely different. In this video adventurer and animal expert Coyote Peterson will compare the two side by side to show you each ones unique features so you will better understand their individual traits and be able to properly identify them if you see one in the wild! So lets explore the incredible world of snapping turtles and all of the folklore and myth that surrounds one of the planet's most ancient and misunderstood creatures.   In this series of explanations and quick facts we will go into the the land of Alligator snapping turtles.

Fast Facts: Alligator Snapping Turtle

Scientific NameMacrochelys temminckii

Distinguishing Features: Large turtle with strong jaws and a ridged shell resembling alligator skin

Average Size: 8.4 to 80 kg (19 to 176 lb); males larger than females

Diet: Primarily carnivorous

Average Life Span: 20 to 70 years

Habitat: Midwest to Southeast United States

Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Testudines

Family: Chelydridae

Fun Fact: Although not aggressive, the turtle can deliver a bite powerful enough to amputate fingers.



Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in the world. Their heavy heads, strong jaws and hooked beaks give them a prehistoric appearance, and their carapace, or shell, is spiked. The alligator snapping turtle's defining characteristics are its large head, strong jaws and hooked beak. It has a spiked, dark-brown carapace. Alligator snapping turtles have long, narrow tongues equipped with an appendage that looks like a worm to attract prey. Algae growing on these turtles' backs lends camouflage among the muddy river beds they inhabit. Males can weigh up to 90 kilograms (200 pounds) with a carapace length of up to 80 centimeters (31 inches).

Native Habitat

Alligator snapping turtles are native to the southern United States. They are found in rivers and streams that feed into the Gulf of Mexico. Their range stretches from Iowa, west into Texas, and east into Georgia and northern Florida.  Genetic analyses revealed that there are three genetically distinct subpopulations of alligator snapping turtles, residing in the greater Mississippi River watershed, the Gulf coastal rivers east of the Mississippi River and the Suwannee River drainage system in Florida.

Alligator snapping turtles are predominantly aquatic, spending most of their time in the water. They can stay submerged for 40 to 50 minutes before needing to surface for air. They are only found in freshwater systems and tend to prefer the deeper beds of large rivers, canals and lakes. However, juveniles may be found in smaller streams.

Food/Eating Habits

Alligator snapping turtles are primarily carnivorous. They eat fish and other aquatic animals, but have also been known to eat small mammals and some vegetation. These turtles are most active at night and will scavenge or hunt for food. When hunting, these ambush predators stay motionless in the water and reveal the worm-like appendage on their tongues to lure unsuspecting prey.

Reproduction and Development

Alligator snapping turtles reach sexual maturity between 11 and 13 years. They tend to mate in early spring. Because they are typically solitary, they may have to travel to find a mate. The male mounts the back of the female and holds her shell with all four feet during copulation. Females then travel inland about 50 miles to dig nests in the sand. They generally lay only one clutch per year, or possibly one every other year. Clutch sizes range from 10 to 60, and the eggs incubate for about 100 days.


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