Meet “Max” The Giant Alligator Snapping Turtle

Nov 14, 2016
On the Web
by Editor in Chief

On the Web - A monster lurks below the coffee-colored waters of the Suwannee River. It is rarely seen, but fishermen and scientists know of its presence. Its two-inch claws dig into the sand as the creature pulls its 120-pound mass along the bottom. Its powerful jaws can snap a garfish in half or quickly detach a human finger, but more often they crush the shells of mussels or the skins of palmetto berries. Occasionally, an unsuspecting boater spots the tip of its snout as it breaks the surface of the water to breathe, before returning to the secret world of the river bottom where its ancestors have wandered for millions of years.

This is the alligator snapping turtle. It inhabits rivers and bayous that drain into the Gulf of Mexico from northern Florida west to Texas and as far north as Illinois and Iowa. It is often confused with its smaller cousin, the common snapper which can be found in most bodies of water east of the Rocky Mountains. The alligator snapper’s numbers are thought to be highly reduced from what they once were due to widespread harvest as human food.

A new species of alligator snapping turtle that only occurs in the Suwannee River drainage in North Florida and South Georgia was recently described by scientists. Conservationists are seeking special protections for this turtle because of its small range.

A large alligator snapping turtle named “Max” will appear at the Southwest Florida Reptile Expo in Bonita Springs this weekend. Daniel Parker of Sunshine Serpents will handle the turtle in educational presentations. The public will have the opportunity to see the giant turtle at a safe distance while learning of its unusual habits. “The alligator snapper is a spectacular prehistoric animal that deserves our respect,” said Parker. “While it certainly has a dangerous bite, it is slow moving and is not difficult to handle safely…except for being really heavy,” he said laughing. “I might need to visit the chiropractor after this.”

Sunshine Serpents (www.sunshineserpents.com) deals with all things involving reptiles and amphibians. They guide wildlife tours, lead educational presentations, consult and provide animals for film and TV projects, and propagate reptiles in captivity.

The Southwest Florida Reptile Expo is sponsored by the Calusa Herpetological Society of Southwest Florida. This event will showcase local reptile breeders and give the public the opportunity to see live reptiles up close as well as buy pets, supplies, T-shirts, and jewelry. The Expo will be held at the Bonita Springs/Estero Elks Lodge at 3231 Coconut Rd Bonita Springs, FL 34134. The Expo will be open from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Saturday, November 19 and 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM on Sunday, November 20, 2016. For more information see www.calusaherp.org.

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