Monday, November 29, 2010

This Should Lure You In.....

The alligator snapping turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, is found in lakes and streams in the south eastern region of the United States and can be found into Canada. The largest specimen ever formally recorded was a 236 pound alligator snapper at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. On average, these turtles generally grow to a carapace length of 26 inches and weigh up to 175 pounds. These turtles got their name from the three pronounced ridges that are on the carapace which resemble those of the alligator. Often called the dinosaur of the turtle world, these interesting turtles are very primitive in appearance. These turtles can live anywhere from 50-100 years!

Alligator snapping turtles are scavengers by night and hunters by day. During the day, the use a specialized section of their tongue, which resembles a worm, to lure in prey. When the lure is in use, it fills with blood giving it the red color of a worm. To help with camouflage, the deep ridges of the turtle's shell become covered with algae helping to blend their shell into the substrate. The inside of the turtles mouth is grey in color and also blends in with its surroundings.

These turtles mate in early spring and nest 2 months later. The female will lay her eggs about 50 yards from the water's edge and this is the commonly the only time these turtles will leave the water. A clutch of eggs can contain 8-52 eggs and incubation lasts anywhere from 100 to 140 days. Sex is determined by the temperature of each individual egg during incubation.

A study produced by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in 2006 titled "Food Habits of Macrochelys temminckii from Arkansas to Louisiana" includes interesting information on the food habits of these interesting turtles. This experiment was carried out by investigating the stomach contents and intestinal tracts of 109 alligator snapping turtles from both Arkansas and Louisiana. One of the first findings of the study was that a positive correlation between body mass and stomach content was discovered. This means that the larger a turtle was, the more food it consumed. Contents of the stomach and intestinal tracts included the following in order of most common: fish, crayfish, mollusks, turtles, insects, and nutria. Most surprisingly mammals were found in the digestive tracts of these primitive looking turtles. It is just another connection to the alligators from which they got their common name. Mammals that were found in their stomach include; Dasypus novemcinctus (armadillo), Didelphis virginiana (Virginia opossum), Sciurus sp. (squirrel), and Sus scrofa (hogs). The take home message from this study is that alligator snapping turtles are opportunistic scavengers and have the ability to consume a wide variety of prey.

Turtle info:
Louisiana Study:

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