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What Is the Alligator Snapping Turtle?

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  • Written By: L.K. Blackburn
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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The alligator snapping turtle is a large fresh water dwelling turtle that lives in the southeastern United States. Males of the species reach 26 inches (66 cm) in length and 175 pounds (80 kg) in weight. Female alligator snapping turtles are much smaller in size, and reach around 50 pounds (23 kg). A distinctive characteristic of the alligator snapping turtle is its worm shaped tongue that it uses as a lure to hunt unsuspecting prey who are then fooled directly into the turtle's impressive jaws.

Swamps, lakes, rivers, and streams are the alligator snapping turtle's habitat. Within the southeastern United States, the turtles live in areas along the Gulf Coast stretching from Florida to Texas. The turtles have also been found in the central United States in Kansas and Illinois. Though not yet on the endangered species list, the destruction of the turtle's habitat has put them at substantial risk. The turtles are also hunted for their shells and meat as well as kept as exotic pets, and are especially at risk in the state of Louisiana.

An alligator snapping turtle is able to stay submerged underwater for up to 50 minutes before surfacing for air. Though similar in appearance to other snapping turtles, the alligator snapping turtle has distinct ridges on the back of its shell. Alligator snapping turtles also have eyes on the side of their heads, instead of facing forward like other species.

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The snapping turtles reach maturity at around 13 years of age, and mate from early to late spring. Female turtles lay eggs once a year inland on the shore and place the eggs in sand. Male alligator snapping turtles have nothing to do with the eggs or the female turtle once mating has been completed. After a mother lays the eggs she also has no further contact with the eggs or hatched juvenile turtles.

As the turtle eggs are left unattended on the shore, they often eaten by birds and raccoons. Once full grown and mature, however, the alligator snapping turtle has no natural predator in the wild beyond human poaching. Though the turtles are in the water full-time except for when the female lays eggs, they often prefer to hide behind debris in the water.

The alligator snapping turtle eats fish, mollusks, and other turtles. It hunts using its worm shaped tongue as a decoy, and lies in wait for prey sitting at the bottom of a lake or river. The turtle is also a scavenger and will eat decaying animal and fish debris. Alligator snapping turtles are most active at night.

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