Alligator Snapping Turtle

Macrochelys temminckii

An Ancient Living Fossil

The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is related to the common snapping turtle. The alligator snapping turtle, however, is considered the largest freshwater turtle in the world. It can live for more than 150 years and can grow to over 220 pounds!

Where is the Alligator Snapping Turtle Found?


Alligator snapping turtles live in the southeastern United States. They are found as far north as Chicago and as far west as Texas (map originally from National Geographic).


Female alligator snapping turtle lay only one batch of eggs per year. Males never leave the water, while females crawl out of the water to lay 25 to 30 eggs. They dig a small hole and place them within. From the time of laying, it takes 11 to 16 weeks for eggs to mature and hatch.

Unlike humans, turtles (as well as other related reptiles) the sex of  the offspring are determined by the temperature of the eggs during incubation. Females are produced when the egg temperature is higher than a certain mean temperature, and males are produced when the egg temperature is lower than this mean temperature.  (An easy way to remember this is “hot chicks, cool dudes.”) However, snapping turtles are different. According to David Madge, D.Sc., snapping turtles produce females at high and low temperature extremes, while males are produced at intermediate temperatures.

Baby Snapping Turtles

When young alligator snapping turtles hatch, they are two to three inches long and already look just like the adults. From the time of hatching, it takes 11 to 13 years before a turtle becomes reproductively mature and can start the life cycle again.

How long do Alligator Snapping Turtles live?

On average, an alligator snapping turtle will live for about 60 years. However, there have been reports of snapping turtles with bullets from the civil war in their carapace. This indicates that they can live up to 150 years.

What do Alligator Snapping Turtles eat?

These turtles eat almost anything they can get a hold of. Their primary diet consists of fish and invertebrates. Alligator snapping turtles are sit-and-wait ambush predators.  Typically they lay on the mud at the bottom of a lake or stream. To attract their prey they expose a small, worm-like tongue that wiggles. When the small prey approaches, the jaws snap shut.

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Written by Rob Nelson

Rob is an ecologist from the University of Hawaii. He is the co-creator and director of Untamed Science. His goal is to create videos and content that are entertaining, accurate, and educational. When he's not making science content, he races whitewater kayaks and works on Stone Age Man.

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