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Alligator Snapping Turtle

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An alligator snapping turtle photographed at St. Louis Zoo in Missouri

About the Alligator Snapping Turtle

The prehistoric-looking alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in North America and among the largest in the world. With its spiked shell, beaklike jaws, and thick, scaled tail, this species is often referred to as the "dinosaur of the turtle world."

Found almost exclusively in the rivers, canals, and lakes of the southeastern United States, alligator snappers can live to be 50 to 100 years old. Males average 26 inches (66 centimeters) in shell length and weigh about 175 pounds (80 kilograms), although they have been known to exceed 220 pounds (100 kilograms). The much smaller females top out at around 50 pounds (23 kilograms).


Alligator snappers spend most of their lives in water, the exception being when females trudge about 160 feet (50 meters) inland to nest. They can stay submerged for 40 to 50 minutes before surfacing for air.

The alligator snapper employs a unique natural lure in its hunting technique. Its tongue sports a bright-red, worm-shaped piece of flesh that, when displayed by a motionless turtle on a river bottom, draws curious fish or frogs close enough to be snatched.


Adult snappers have no natural predators other than humans, who capture them for their meat and shells, and to sell in the exotic animal trade. A severe reduction in population due to unregulated harvesting and habitat loss has led states to protect them throughout most of their range, and they are listed as a threatened species.