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Image by James Morden

Alligator Snapping Turtle 

Alligator Snapping Turtle

In the swamps of Florida, to Texas in the Midwest, the alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in North America. But, unfortunately, they also prove to be very elusive. These turtles spend most of their time submerged in water, especially in the hot summer months.


Alligator snapping turtles have spiked ridges that go down their shells, giving them the look of a modern dinosaur. Unlike most freshwater turtles, alligator snapping turtles can't retract their head and legs into their shells. The bottom of their shells, called the plastron, is too small to house their head and legs. Their alligator-like tales set them apart from other turtle species.


Like all aquatic turtles, they are uniquely designed for life in the water. Their four feet all have webbing between their toes. Their webbed feet, along with their muscular limbs, allow them to propel themselves through the water more swiftly. On land, they are slow and awkward. Being in the water helps support their weight. When they are submerged, they can hold their breath for almost an hour. When they come up for air, they will stick their nose out of the water for a moment and submerge themselves again for another period. With their nostrils at the front of their face, it is easy to come up for air without revealing their entire body. This stealthy tactic makes them all the more elusive. In addition, the feet of the snapping turtle are equipped with long claws to grip the mud at the bottom of a swamp, pond, or river to remain stable when resting or when they need to move along the bottom.

Alligator snapping turtle lure

When defending themselves or when hunting, they can bite down with a force of 1,500 pounds. Their bite has enough power to break bones. Their sharp beaks can inflict severe damage to an enemy. When they are in hunting mode, stealth and patience are some of their most outstanding abilities. They let prey come to them. With their mouth wide open, they will wiggle a small lure in their mouth that resembles a worm. Eventually, a hungry fish becomes tempted by the appearance of a struggling worm it can quickly overtake. Once the fish comes too close to the turtle's jaws, the turtle will snap its jaws shut with incredible speed. 

The turtle also relies on camouflage. With the sun's rays shining down in the water, moss will begin to grow on the turtle's shell. Moss growth on their bodies allows them to camouflage with the vegetation around them. Remaining motionless with moss on its shell will make it difficult for an animal or a human to spot it from any direction. 


An adult turtle can grow up to 200 pounds or more when fully grown. When they are born, they can fit in the palm of a child's hand. Unfortunately, their infant size makes them highly vulnerable to predators such as large fish, wading birds such as herons, or even adult snapping turtles. Most young turtles will not make it to adulthood due to these obstacles. To survive, they must remain well hidden and be cautious when swimming. As adults, though, they will have no natural predators to contend with within their environment and can live without fear.

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