Natural Highlights: Alligator Snapping Turtle

   Common vs. Alligator Snapping Turtle

One of the many fascinating species living in the Wolf River is the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii), America's largest freshwater turtle.  These turtles are rarely seen on the Wolf because they are almost entirely aquatic bottom-dwellers, hanging out under root masses and in debris in the deeper parts of the river and wetlands in the watershed. Females do exit the water to lay eggs in surrounding uplands, and adults are occasionally known to bask on the bank; WRC Land Protection Associate Ryan Hall recently found the shell of an Alligator Snapper near a wetland along the urban Wolf River.  Despite its size and its fearsome appearance and reputation, the Alligator Snapper is threatened by habitat loss, water pollution, and illegal harvesting for its meat. It is considered rare and vulnerable by the Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation.

Adult Alligator Snappers weigh 19 to 120 lbs on average, though there are records of turtles weighing 200 lbs or more, with shell lengths from 15 to 26 inches. By contrast, the Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is both more common and smaller; adults weigh from 10-75 lbs.  The best way to tell the two species apart is to look for a very large head with a hooked beak and three distinct keeled ridges on the shell of the Alligator Snapper.  Common Snappers look much less "monstrous", with flatter shells and heads that seem appropriately sized.  

By preserving the habitat and the water quality of the Wolf River watershed, the Wolf River Conservancy is helping to ensure that Alligator Snappers and other creatures dependent on unspoiled wetlands will be around for future generations.  Please use the following links for more information.

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife

  Found near an urban Wolf River wetland.


Posted by Cathy Justis at 12:47 PM