The alligator snapping turtle
This month’s McIntosh County Critter is the alligator snapping turtle or “Macrochelys temminckii.”
This intriguing species is one of the heaviest freshwater turtles in the world and is the largest freshwater turtle species in North America. Adults sometimes exceed two feet in shell length and weigh up to 250 pounds. No wonder people refer to these turtles as “living dinosaurs” with their primitive appearance of a hooked beak and three large pointed ridges that run along their spiky shell.
The alligator snapping turtle lives in lakes, rivers, and creeks in East Central and Southeastern Oklahoma. This species is protected so it is illegal to be harvested or to be kept as a pet. It absolutely should be left alone when seen in the wild.
Alligator snapping turtles feed on a variety of things such as plants, fish, crayfish, birds, mussels, small mammals, and even snakes. Mostly they are opportunistic feeders and scavenge for food. They can also hunt by luring their prey with their worm-like appendage on the bottom floor of their mouth. This appendage looks like a worm and fills with blood when fish are present. When the fish comes closer to investigate the “worm,” it soon becomes a meal for the turtle.
Some researchers consider the alligator snapping turtle to be very secretive because it spends a lot of its time underwater, going up to 50 minutes before needing air.
The male alligator snapping turtle can mature between 11 and 21 years of age, while females mature between 13 and 21 years of age. Adults mate in the spring and lay eggs two months later. Then the eggs hatch after 100 to 140 days of incubation. Surprisingly, the temperature of the incubation period determines the gender of the offspring. Females develop in warmer temperatures, whereas males will develop in cooler temperatures.
Once the hatchlings hatch, they must fend for themselves against many natural predators. However, the only predator of the full-grown adult alligator snapping turtle is humans. Unfortunately, alligator snapping turtles are currently on the decline due to overharvesting their meat. They are now endangered in several states, including Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri. It is also designated as an “in need of conservation” in Kansas. This is why they are protected in Oklahoma and everyone must do their part to help preserve and protect this amazing species.