Lakeside Nature Center

Critter Corner - Alligator Snapping Turtle
(Macrochelys temminckii)


Missouri is home to the largest fresh-water turtle in the world, the Alligator Snapping Turtle.  These turtles can weigh well over 100 pounds.  These large turtles are found mainly in the eastern side of Missouri in the Mississippi River.  Alligator Snapping Turtles are very shy and secretive and rarely leave the water.


Adult Alligator Snapping Turtles feed mainly on fish, but they also love to munch smaller turtles!  Baby Alligator “snappers” eat small fish, snails, crayfish, and water-dwelling insects.  These turtles are mostly ambush hunters, staying still until their dinner comes close enough for a quick, snapping bite!  Carrion (dead animal matter) is also a part of their diet.


The adults breed in the late spring.  During May and June, the mom turtle leaves the water in search of safe places to lay her eggs.  When she finds the proper type of soil with good water drainage, she uses her back legs to scoop out a “nest” where she will lay between 15 and 50 white, leathery eggs.  The turtle covers the eggs back up with kicking movements from her hind legs, and then she leaves.  The warmth of the sun incubates her eggs and later in the summer the baby turtles hatch out.  They are entirely on their own and instinctively head to the safety of water.


Alligator Snapping Turtles spend most of their time in the deep water of large rivers.  They conceal themselves in the submerged vegetation where they patiently wait to ambush their prey.  Instead of swimming, like other water turtles, they move around mostly underwater by walking slowly on the bottom!  These turtles are able to remain underwater for 50 minutes before they need to surface for a breath of air.  


In the water these large turtles are shy and will slowly move away from any threat.  If they are forced to, they can give a very nasty bite from their large hooked beak and powerful jaw muscles.  If you see a snapping turtle crossing a road and want to help it, Do Not Pick It Up!  The turtle doesn’t know you are trying to help and will bite in self-defense.  To help one across a road have a grown-up help you scoot it off the road with a long stick


  • Alligator Snapping Turtles are very tricky when they go fishing.  They stay very still and their algae-covered shell and dark body gives them perfect camouflage. There is a small pink piece of skin on their tongues that they can slowly wiggle back and forth.  When the turtle opens his mouth, it looks exactly like a little worm!  When a fish comes to eat the “worm”, there is a quick snap and the fish is dinner!

  • The Alligator Snapping Turtles are true giants and can easily weigh over 100 pounds.  (The Common Snapping Turtle weighs between 10 and 35 pounds.) 

  • The largest Alligator “Snapper” recorded weighed a whopping 316 pounds! 

  • Alligator snapping turtles live about 50 years.

  • The Alligator snapping turtle has been called the “dinosaur of the turtle world” because of its primitive look and dinosaur-like tail.

  • Due to changes in our large rivers and over-hunting of them in the past, the Alligator Snapping Turtle is a protected species in Missouri.

To learn more about alligator snapping turtles

Click Here

(Photo of alligator snapping turtle at top of page from Missouri Department of Conservation;  all other photos from St Louis Zoo)

©2020 Lakeside Nature Center. All rights reserved.