Alligator Snapping Turtles


We know most of you have seen some of the monster sized catfish, carp, and even alligators in the lake.  However, this is not something many people get a chance to see – around here anyway.

Alligator Snapping Turtle









This picture was taken by Terri Henry circa January 2005 at her and her husband, Mike’s home at 485 Lakeshore Drive in Hamilton, Georgia on Lake Harding.  Mike and Terri always enjoyed where they lived, their beautiful lot and experiencing all the nature around them. One pretty day in 2004 they were in their yard watching some geese near the water’s edge.  Read on as Terri recounts the events.

Terri & Mike Henry.

Terri and Mike Henry

“In October of 2004, Mike and I began to have lots of geese in our yard at the lake.  We counted them one day and there were 52 of them.  After a few weeks of them making a mess in our yard, Mike went out on the deck one afternoon and shot over their heads to get them out of the yard. After Mike went back inside I stayed on the deck watching the geese after they had all flocked to the water and I noticed one of geese kept going completely under and struggling as if something were pulling it under.  I ran and got Mike and just as we got back on the deck the goose went under and it didn’t come back up. We didn’t know what had taken it under, however; we knew that it had to have been something quite large to take out a 15 to 20 pound goose.

Then three months later, in January 2005, I was looking out the window across the lake only about 25 feet from our shoreline and I saw something fighting for its life.  I couldn’t tell what it was, and I couldn’t tell what had a hold of it, but I grabbed my camera and I ran down to the shoreline.  Just as I got down there I saw intestines floating on top of the water.  I never knew what it was that had been attacked and killed.  As I stood there, I saw this HUGE turtle swimming towards the shore from where the intestines were left floating on the water.   I stayed very still and watched him come all the way up to the shore.  I wanted to yell for Mike so bad for him to see it, but I knew that if I did that neither of us would get a chance to see it up close.

As it got closer I could see that his shell was as large as a trash can lid.  I stayed very still and as soon as he popped his head up right at the shoreline, I snapped the picture. His head, as you can see is as large as a human head.  The turtle immediately went back under and I never saw him again. As you can also see in the picture, the turtle is missing his left eye.

After capturing this picture, we assumed that it was probably this turtle that had killed the goose.  Mike had a friend that was an archaeologist and he sent the picture of the turtle to him.  He told Mike that it was an Alligator Snapping Turtle and that it was somewhere between 75 and 100 years old. He also said that I captured a once in a lifetime shot, for it’s very unusual to capture a picture of an alligator snapping turtle.”

Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles. They can weigh between 155 and 175 pounds (70 to 80 kg).  There are other reports of even larger ones. They are characterized by three large, pronounced ridges, or keels, that run from the front to the back of the carapace. They are a solid gray, brown, black, or olive-green in color, and often covered with algae. With powerful jaws and a large head, they are unique among snapping turtles for having eyes on the side of the head.  They have radiating yellow patterns around the eyes, serving to break up the outline of the eye and keep the turtle camouflaged.  Their eyes are also surrounded by a star-shaped arrangement of fleshy filamentous “eyelashes”.  The alligator snapping turtle looks very primitive and has been called the dinosaur of the turtle world.










Alligator snapping turtles spend most of their time in the water, and generally only nesting females venture on land. The sex of the hatchlings is determined by incubation temperature and the hatchlings look pretty much like the adults. Males are typically larger than females. Alligator snapping turtles are native to the southeastern region of the United States and are confined to the river systems that drain into the Gulf of Mexico. They stay submerged for 40 to 50 minutes at a time, and only go to the surface for air.  They are so motionless under water that algae collect on their backs and make them almost invisible to fish.

They are both a scavenger and an active hunter.  They most actively forage for food during the night. During the day, they usually lie quietly in the bottom of a dark body of water with an opened jaw to reveal a small pink worm-like lure in the back of its gray mouth. The lure attracts fish, and when the fish enter the jaws, they are swallowed whole, sliced in two by the sharp jaws, or impaled on the sharp tips of the upper and lower jaws. The alligator snapping turtle eats any kind of fish and also eats frogs, snakes, snails, worms, clams, crayfish, aquatic plants, and other turtles. The turtles feed year round by taking advantage of warm winter days to search for food.

Their natural diet consists primarily of fish and dead fish carcasses which are usually thrown overboard by fishermen.  In captivity they may consume almost any kind of meat provided, including beef, chicken and pork although these are not always healthy on a day to day basis.  They will refuse to eat if exposed to temperature extremes. Though not a primary food source for them, adult alligator snappers have been known to kill and eat small alligators that they have been confined with, such as in a net.   Minnows are usually the main source of meat for the species at a young age.  They will eat almost anything they can catch.

Though their potential lifespans in the wild are unknown, alligator snapping turtles are believed to be capable of living to 200 years of age but 80 to 120 is more likely. In captivity, they typically live from anywhere between 20 to 70 years of age.

Alligator Biologist-with-alligator-snapping-turtle














Source of Information:

All or part of this information was provided by the Animal Diversity Web and Museum of Zoology of the University of Michigan.
It appears here with their permission. The original author of this information was Paul DiLaura.

For more information, including references, see the Animal Diversity Web account for this species, here: site/ accounts/ information/ Macrochelys_temminckii.html.


Also:  Wikipedia and interview by Susan Webster Tompkins with Terri Henry, November 7, 201.   Photo at top of page taken by Terri Henry, Lake Harding, Georgia