How long do they live? Up to 70 years old that we know of [1]. The alligator snapping turtle, or simply alligator turtle, may live longer than that, but aging techniques for turtles and tortoises are not very accurate. I live in Florida and I grew up around these monsters. There’s something otherworldly and prehistoric about them and I was taught to leave them alone and just observe them from a distance. As I grew up I learned that everything on this planet is struggling to survive and I never wanted to add to that suffering. I’m deeply saddened to know that this species is on the decline thanks to my own species.

Where are they found at? The alligator turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtles on the planet and they are found throughout the Southeastern United States.

What do they eat? They are carnivores and will eat almost anything living or dead.

What do they look like? If you do not live in the south in the United States (then you probably have better school systems), then think Gamera from the Godzilla films. See Figure 1. The alligator turtle has a very large head and spikes on their carapace. They can weight well over 200 pounds and if you see one, turn around and run the other way. If you see one on the road, very carefully place it on the side it was headed towards. Be sure to keep your fingers far away from the mouth area. See Figures 2, 3, and 4.

Figure 1. Gamera.
Figure 2. The alligator snapping turtle doing a Gamera impression.
Figure 3. Even alligator turtles are cute when they are babies.
Figure 4. This species is struggling to survive because people can’t stop building things and eating things.

How do scientists know how old they are? Lots and lots of estimation if you do not know when the turtle hatched. Researchers can count the growth rings on the shell of the turtle, but those are not very accurate. Researchers also make estimates based on the size of the turtle, but that’s the best we have right now.

How do they reproduce? The alligator turtle reproduces through sexual reproduction and the female lays eggs in burrows that she digs on land. The female turtle will protect the eggs before they hatch, but once the babies leave their shell they are on their own. This species reaches sexual maturity around 11 to 13 years of age [2].

So what are we lacking? The ability to understand the fundamentals of carrying capacity.  The mitochondrial genome of the alligator turtle can be found on the NCBI website, but there’s no nuclear genome information. There’s no information about reproductive senescence or age verification either.

Conservation status: I was a bit shocked to find out through the IUCN Red List that this freshwater monster is considered vulnerable and on the decline. The main reason is due to habitat destruction. Take a look at Florida now compared to 50 years ago and you’ll see for yourself the sad state of the natural world. Oh, and how could I forget? The alligator snapping turtle has found it’s way on to international menus because our species takes omnivore a bit too far. I’m from one of the most redneck, hickerbilly towns on the planet and we didn’t even eat alligator turtles. What the hell is wrong with the world?

  1. “Alligator Snapping Turtle” National Geographic.  Accessed 10/1/2016
  2. Animal Diversity Web. Macrochelys temminckiiAlligator Snapping Turtle.  Accessed 10/1/2016