Love Bites: The Life and Times of the Alligator Snapping Turtle

Imagine being commissioned to investigate the claims of a dangerous prehistoric creature in the South. The creature is a relic from times long past, a modern dinosaur, somehow lost in today’s time. While one of your fellow scientists is diving to look for evidence of it, he is ambushed and mauled to death by the creature’s prehistoric ferocity. When you try and collect yourself, the creature absconds your female counterpart away. If this sounds like a scene out of a movie, that’s because it is. While on the topic of prehistoric monsters, I present to you, the alligator snapping turtle.

While not quite as cool as a fish-person from the 50’s, the alligator snapping turtle is by no means a boring animal. I mean, just look at this thing.

Pictured: A crude, and ugly animal, with an alligator snapping turtle

The alligator snapping turtle goes by a more formal name of Macroclemys temminckii. Yeah, that’s a bit of a mouthful, but you know how scientists get about that sort of stuff. Alligator snappers live primarily in the Southeastern United States, where wetlands are aplenty. This bad boy is quite the heavyweight, being the largest freshwater turtle in North America as well as being one of the largest worldwide. Males can top out at around 220 pounds, not something you’d be able to fit in a standard fishbowl, that’s for sure.

While it is referred to as Dinosaur of the World, alligator snappers are not your grandfather’s snapping turtle, this beast is equipped with state of the art evolution. It spends most of its life in the water and has evolved the ability to hold its breath for nearly an hour. This allows it to take a deep breath and plop itself somewhere on the bottom and wait for prey. The turtle has also perfected the whole hunting process and evolved an ergonomic strategy of getting lunch. Why work harder, when you can work smarter? Instead of dragging its massive bulk to chase prey around that can outmaneuver it, the alligator snapping turtle prefers ambush. With its lungs having the capacity to hold air for just under an hour, the turtle can lie in wait, motionless, for a meal to approach it. Well, not entirely motionless, the turtle keeps its alarmingly large jaws wide open, and has a small appendage on its tongue. This little flap of skin is a vibrant reddish pink color, looking a lot like a worm. This appendage is just irresistible to fish and they can’t help but approach it. Big whoopsie. Once the prey has comes to check it out, BAM, the jaws come slamming down, annihilating whatever wandered too close. The turtle’s sharp beak slices and dices through skin and muscle like that’s its job. Turtle: 1, prey: 0. There are claims that alligator snapping turtles have one of the strongest bite forces of any animal, but this has been disproved. The bite force is actually just about equal to that of a human, but it is highly recommended you don’t go sticking your fingers anywhere near its biting end (human or turtle). Of course, some people just lack common sense or happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Subsequently, people have lost digits on varying appendages due to the chomping end of the snapping turtle. Thankfully, no deaths have ever been reported with the alligator snapper to blame. For everyone’s amusement, here is a video of a biologist with the brilliant idea of putting his arm in the mouth of the snapping turtle. To reiterate, DO NOT even think too long about doing this, but it does give a good visualization of the power in the jaws of the turtle.

The alligator snapping turtle is often mistaken for the other more common (and more mundane) snapping turtle.
Can there be a tie to losing a beauty contest?

Here is a video showing both of them side by side, featuring the same genius who stuck his arm in the mouth. Alligator snappers are discernible by the 3 rows of prominent ridges on their back carapace. It is from these ridges that lend the animal its nickname, for they resemble the plates of an alligator. Algae is frequently found growing on their backs and head because they spend so much time sitting around waiting for food to come to them (strikingly similar to my mother in law). Speaking of mothers, the only time these reptiles ever leave their watery home is to lay their eggs. The turtles mate about once every year in the springtime (when a young turtle’s fancy turns to love). Once born, maturity is reached in about 12 years, coincidentally the age when humans are the least mature. In the wild, these beasts can live up to 200 years, although 80-120 is way more likely.

Undeniably, this prehistoric hulk deserves mad respect for being the baddest turtle North America has to offer. It has mastered the craft of ambush. And is superbly adapted to life in murky waters. Next time you find yourself trouncing around in the South, keep an eye on your toes.

Unfunny Works Cited (Not trying to get sued here)




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