Alligator snapping turtle

Alligator snapping turtle

Macrochelys temminckii

Common name:

Alligator snapping turtle

Scientific name:

Macrochelys temminckii

Alternative common names:


The alligator snapping turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. It’s a carnivore that feeds primarily on fish, smaller turtles, crayfish, and mollusks (mussels and snails), but occasionally eats juvenile alligators, small mammals, ducks, amphibians, carrion, fruit, and acorns.

Additional Information

Where does this species come from?

United States of America

What is its invasive status in South Africa?

NEMBA category 2

Where in South Africa is it a problem?

KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, and Gauteng Provinces.

How does it spread?

Spread via pet trade and is sold at meat markets. Humans find them valuable for their unique appearance and their meat.

Why is it a problem?

They feed on indigenous species such as fish, smaller turtles, crayfish, and mollusks, juvenile alligators, small mammals, ducks, amphibians, carrion and fruit. They have a dangerous bite, but generally don’t attack humans unless provoked.

What does it look like?

Description: One of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. It has a camouflaged, ridged upper shell, a large head and powerful, hooked, beak-like jaws, which, together with its thick, scaly skin and oversized claws, all contribute to its primitive look and set it apart from other freshwater turtles. The three large, pronounced ridges running down the length of the dark brown to blackish shell somewhat resemble those on the back of an alligator. The tail is almost as long as the shell itself and, together with the chin, throat and neck, is coated with long, pointed tubercles.

Habitat: Generally found in the deep water of large rivers, canals, lakes and swamps, though hatchlings and juveniles usually live in small streams.

Breeding: Nests are dug at least 50 metres from the water’s edge, and a clutch containing anything between 8 and 52 eggs may be laid. Incubation lasts 100 to 140 days and most hatchlings emerge in autumn. The sex of the young is determined by incubation temperature; high and low temperatures yield more females and moderate temperatures yield more males. Sexual maturity is attained between 11 and 13 years of age.

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