ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLE
Macrochelys temminckii (Harlan, 1835)
măk-rō-kē-lēz — tĕm-mĭngk-ē-ī


Conservation Status:

State: Kansas Species in Need of Conservation (SINC)

Federal: None
NatureServe State: SNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe National: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Global: G5 - Secure
CITES: Appendix III

Image © Suzanne L. Collins, CNAH.
A 132.5-pound specimen from Labette County (KU Color Slide 7592). Image © Parsons Sun.

Description:
Alligator Snapping Turtles are the largest freshwater turtles. They weigh between 155 and 175 pounds (70 to 80 kg). They are characterized by three large, pronounced ridges, or keels, that each run from the front to the back of the carapace. With powerful jaws and a large head, they are unique among snapping turtles for having eyes on the side of the head.
Adults normally 380-660 mm (15-26 inches) in carapace length; largest specimen from Kansas: sex undetermined adult (KU 204150) from Lyon County with a carapace length of 558 mm (22 inches) collected by Rick Christie and J.M. McDaniel on 21 February 1967 (Clarke, 1981); heaviest specimen from Kansas: male (FHSM 9597; image) from Labette County with a weight of 60 kilograms (132½ pounds) collected by Jack Gearhart, Ralph Stice, and Henry Stice in April 1938; maximum carapace length throughout the range: 31½ inches; maximum weight 316 pounds (Conant and Collins, 1998).

Distribution:
The Alligator Snapping Turtle has been recorded from the Neosho, Verdigris, Walnut, and Arkansas River Basins in Kansas between 1885 and 1986. Records from Woods and Kay counties in Oklahoma indicate that this species may also be present in the Cimarron River and Arkansas River drainages, respectively (though Glass, 1949 felt that these wide sandy streams would not provide suitable habitat).
(, Museum Voucher) (, Observation) (, Literature Record)
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  • Occurrence Summary:  
  • 13
    Records 
  • 5
    Museum Vouchers 
  • 8
    Other Observations 
Some county occurrences indicated below may be too imprecise to map above.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences):
Butler (1); Cherokee (2); Cowley (1); Labette (2); Lyon (1); Marion (1); Montgomery (2); Neosho (2); Sedgwick (1);

Natural History:
Feeds on fish, smaller turtles, mussels, and crayfish, but occasionally carrion and fruit are consumed. They will move in search of food, but they often feed as ambush predators as they sit on a stream bottom with their mouth open. Their tongue has a flesh-colored, worm-shaped appendage that they wiggle to lure a hungry fish. They seldom leave the water except to lay eggs. The females are half the size of the males.
During reproduction, the male alligator snapping turtle mounts the back of the female. He grasps her shell with all four of his feet and inseminates her. It is unlikely that females reproduce more than once a year, and some females lay eggs in alternate years.
The turtles mate in early spring in Florida and late spring in the Mississippi Valley. They nest about two months later in a nest about 160 feet (50 m) from the shore. All nests are dug in the sand and clutch success is highly variable. A clutch may contain eight to 52 eggs and incubation takes 3.5 to 4.5 months. Hatchlings, therefore, emerge in the fall. The sex of the hatchling is determined by incubation temperature and the hatchlings look very much like adults. Sexual maturity occurs in 11 to 13 years. Evidence of reproduction has not been reported in Kansas.

Occurrence Activity:
White dates indicate there is at least a single recorded occurrence on that date. The darker blue a date is, the greater the relative number of observations for that date.
Observation Type: (of recorded types)
Remarks:
Listed as a Kansas Threatened Species in 1978, populations are now considered Kansas Species in Need of Conservation (SINC). The lack of evidence for reproducing populations and the insufficient overall documentation in Kansas is cited as the reasoning behind the lessened in status (Shipman et al., 1993; but see Capron, 1975).
There has been a considerable effort by many individuals (Irwin [1985], Capron [1975, 1986, 1987], and Shipman [1993]) to assess the distribution and status of this turtle in the state through fieldwork. Capron (1986) noted the rapid and extensive movements (usually at night) of the specimen he was radio-tracking in Montgomery County, indicating that individuals may be capable of substantial dispersal over their lifetime.
This turtle currently is known in Kansas only from five vouchered specimens collected in the Neosho River, Verdigris River, and Walnut River watersheds in southeastern Kansas between 1885 and 1986. Records from Woods and Kay counties in Oklahoma support the literature records for the Arkansas River drainage in Hall and Smith (1947) and indicate that this species may ultimately be discovered in the Cimarron River drainage system.
Capron (1986) described the habitat of the collection site of the only recently known specimen in Montgomery County, of being mud-bottomed and with numerous pools reaching depths of six feet at normal stream levels. Many deadfalls, log jams, and pockets of leaf litter were noted at the site as well. The stream was almost completely shaded by the canopy of adjacent trees. The Spring River and Shoal Creek were evaluated as to their capacity to support this taxon but was felt to be sub-optimal, (Capron, 1986). 
Capron (1986) remarked that pollution and the obstruction caused by low-water dams as likely reasons for the scattered low-density populations that exist in Kansas.
Shipman et al. (1993) radio-tracked the same turtle as Capron, in an effort to better characterize utilized habitat types, determine growth rates and acquire diet information. They noted that all long-term movements of the turtle over their study were upstream, while short-term movements were not always directed upstream. Short-term movements could be substantial though, as evidenced by a movement that covered 227 meters in less than one hour. All movements were at night. Optimal sites were shown to consist of an overhead canopy, accumulated detritus, muddy substrate, and pools. Shipman et al. (1993) reported an attack by the Alligator Snapping Turtle they were tracking upon two Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina).
Pritchard (1989) hypothesized that Alligator Snapping Turtles in the northern parts of their range are older individuals. He postulates that once born, this species continually travels upstream. This hypothesis was further supported by the study of Shipman et al. (1993). However, a rigorous field test is warranted. If correct, the implications with respect to the numerous low-water overflow dams and low-water bridges in southeast Kansas may (as Capron, 1986 surmised) be insurmountable barriers to currently migrating individuals and inadvertently trapped existing populations.
Two hundred forty-six Alligator Snapping Turtles were repatriated into the Caney River from 2008 to 2010 just south of the Kansas line in Oklahoma, (Anthony et al. 2015). Since then several hundred more have been released in the Caney and Verdigris rivers, subsequent monitoring has failed to discover any turtles that have moved into Kansas yet (Taggart, 2016; D. Riedle, pers. com, 2017).


Bibliography:
1835 Harlan, Richard. Medical and Physical Resources; Or Original Memoirs in Medicine, Surgery, Phsyiology, Geology, Zoology, and Comparative Anatomy. Lydia R. Bailey, Philadelphia. 163pp.
1835 Troost, Gerardus. A footnote Pages 157-8 in R. Harlan. Medical and Physica Researches or Original Memoires in Medicine, Surgery, Physiology, Geology, Zoology, and Comparative Anatomy. xxxix + 653 pp. L.R. Bailey, Philadelphia. pp.
1886 Cragin, Francis W. Miscellaneous notes Bulletin Washburn Laboratory of Natural History 1(7):212-3
1947 Hall, Henry H. and Hobart M. Smith Selected records of reptiles and amphibians from southeastern Kansas Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 49(4):447-454
1949 Glass, Byron P. Records of Macrochelys temminckii in Oklahoma. Copeia 1949(2):138-141
1950 Smith, Hobart M. Handbook of Amphibians and Reptiles of Kansas. University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History, Miscellaneous Publication (2):336
1953 Schmidt, Karl P. A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. 6th Edition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois. 280pp.
1956 Clarke, Robert F. Identification of Kansas turtles. Kansas School Naturalist 2(4):1-3
1956 Clarke, Robert F. Turtles in Kansas. Kansas School Naturalist 2(4):1-15
1960 Legler, John M. Distributional records of reptiles and amphibians in Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 63(1):40-43
1963 Hibbard, Claude W. The presence of Macroclemys and Chelydra in the rexroad fauna from the upper Pliocene of Kansas. Copeia 1963(4):708-709
1974 Collins, Joseph T. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Public Education Series (1):283 pp
1974 Karns, Daryl, Ray E. Ashton, Jr., and Thomas Swearingen. Illustrated Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas: An Identification Manual. University of Kansas Publications Museum of Natural History Public Education Series(2):viii + 18
1975 Capron, Marty. Observations on the Alligator Snapping Turtle Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (9):11-13
1976 Rundquist, Eric M. Field checklist (of) amphibians and reptiles of Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society, Lawrence. pp.
1978 Scheve, Karin. Your Guide to Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants in the Lake Region Counties. Ottawa University Print Center, Ottawa, Kansas. 18pp.
1979 Gray, Peter and Eddie Stegall. A field trip to the Red Hills. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (29):6-8
1979 Mullen, Kirk. A new faunal record for Kansas?. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (29):3
1981 Clarke, Robert F. A record of the Alligator Snapping Turtle, Macroclemys temminckii (Testudines: Chelydridae), in Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 84():59-60
1982 Collins, Joseph T. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. 2nd edition. University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Public Education Series (8):
1984 Collins, Joseph T. New records of fishes, amphibians and reptiles in Kansas for 1984. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (58):14-20
1985 Capron, Marty. The quest for Kansas snappers. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (61):16-18
1985 Capron, Marty. Thunder snakes, blow vipers, and others. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (60):9-10
1985 Irwin, Kelly J. Distribution, abundance, and habitat preference of the Alligator Snapping Turtle in southeastern Kansas. Contract 50, Final Report. Kansas Fish and Game Commission, Pratt. 43pp.
1985 Wood, R. D. Critical habitats for endangered and threatened herps of Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (60):13-15
1986 Capron, Marty A radio telemetry study of an adult Alligator Snapping Turtle in Kansas Kansas Fish and Game Commission, Final Report. 14pp.
1986 Collins, Joseph T. New records of amphibians and reptiles in Kansas for 1986. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (66):9-16
1986 Simmons, John E. KHS brings you news of the world; special giant turtle edition. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (65):8-12
1987 Capron, Marty B. A study to determine the current presence and numbers of the Alligator Snapping Turtle at selected localities in southeastern Kansas Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Agency Contract No. 153. 14pp.
1987 Capron, Marty. Selected observations on south-central Kansas turtles Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (67):13-15
1988 Busby, William H. The Kansas Natural Heritage Program: Taking stock of Kansas' natural heritage. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (71):9-12
1989 Brunson, Ken. More on the Kansas endangered and threatened species list. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (77):17-19
1989 Capron, Marty. Threatened and endangered: A critique of the Kansas list. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (76):14-15
1989 Simmons, John E. Endangered and threatened in Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (75):4-5
1990 Collins, Joseph T. Maximum size records for Kansas amphibians and reptiles. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (81):13-17
1991 Capron, Marty. Unusual foraging behavior in water snakes (Nerodia) around drying pools in southcentral Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (84):14-15
1991 Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. pp.
1991 Shipman, Paul A., David R. Edds, and Doug Blex. Report on the recapture of an Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macroclemys temminckii) in Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (85):8-9
1992 Edds, David R. Population status and incidence of anatomical abnormalities in semiaquatic turtles of the Walnut and lower Arkansas river basins. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. 58pp.
1992 Irwin, Kelly J. Geographic distribution: Macroclemys temminckii. Herpetological Review 23():25
1992 Rundquist, Eric M. Kansas endangered, threatened, and SINC species. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (91):
1992 Taggart, Travis W. KHS field trips. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (91):3
1993 Collins, Joseph T. and Suzanne L. Collins. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. Third Edition. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Lawrence. 397pp.
1993 Lovich, J. E. Macroclemys. M. temminckii. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles (562):1-4
1993 Shipman, Paul A. Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macroclemys temminckii) Habitat Selection. Movements. and Natural History in Southeast Kansas. Thesis. Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas. 101pp.
1993 Shipman, Paul A. Natural history of the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macroclemys temminckii) in Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (93):14-17
1993 Shipman, Paul A., David R. Edds, Lenn E. Shipman, and Doug Blex. Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macroclemys temminckii) habitat selection, movements, and natural history in southeast Kansas. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Agency Contract No. 279. 91pp.
1994 Shipman, Paul A., David R. Edds, and Douglas Blex. Macroclemys temminckii (alligator snapping turtle) and Chelydra serpentina (common snapping turtle). Agnostic behavior . Herpetological Review 25(1):24-25
1994 Shipman, Paul A., David R. Edds, and Douglas Blex. Natural history notes. Macroclemys temminckii and Chelydra serpentina. Herpetological Review 25():24-25
1995 Shipman, Paul A., David R. Edds, and Linn E. Shipman. Distribution of the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macroclemys temminckii) in Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 98():83-91
1996 Rakestraw, J. Spring herp counts: A Kansas tradition. Reptile & Amphibian Magazine (March-April):75-80
1998 Bentley, Curtis C and James L. Knight. Turtles (Reptilia: Testudines) of the Ardis Local Fauna Late Pleistocene (Rancholabrean) of South Carolina. Brimleyana (25):3-33
1998 Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed, expanded. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. pp.
2001 Riedle, J. Daren. The ecology of the alligator snapping turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, in Oklahoma. Thesis. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. 121pp.
2002 Kingsbury, Bruce and Joanna Gibson. Habitat Management Guidelines for Amphibians and Reptiles of the Midwest. Publication of Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Address not given. 152pp.
2003 Taggart, Travis W. Kansas Herpetological Society 2003 spring field trip. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (5):3-4
2005 Riedle, J. Daren, Paul A. Shipman, Stanley F. Fox, and David M. Leslie, Jr. Status and distribution of the Alligator Snapping Turtles, Macrochelys temminckii, in Oklahoma. Southwestern Naturalist 50(1):79-84
2006 Riedle, J. Daren, Paul A. Shipman, Stanley F. Fox, and David M. Leslie, Jr. Microhabitat use, home range, and movements of the Alligator Snapping Turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, in Oklahoma. The Southwestern Naturalist 51(1):35-40
2006 Taggart, Travis W. Distribution and status of Kansas herpetofauna in need of information. State Wildlife Grant T7. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. vii + 106pp.
2008 Riedle, J. Daren, Day B. Ligon and Kerry Graves. Distribution and management of Alligator Snapping Turtles, Macrochelys temminckii, in Kansas and Oklahoma. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 111(1/2):21-28
2008 Riedle, J. Daren, Paul A. Shipman, Stanley F. Fox, Joseph C. Hackler, and David M. Leslie, Jr. Population structure of the Alligator Snapping Turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, on the western edge of its Distribution. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 7(1):100-104
2008 Taggart, Travis W. KHS 2008 spring field trip. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (25):2-3
2009 Riedle, J. Daren, Paul A. Shipman, Stanley F. Fox, and David M. Leslie, Jr. Habitat associations of aquatic turtle communities in Eastern Oklahoma. Proceedings fo the Oklahoma Academy of Science 89():11-22
2010 Collins, Joseph T., Suzanne L. Collins, and Travis W. Taggart. Amphibians, Reptiles, and Turtles of Kansas Eagle Mountain Publishing., Provo, Utah. 400pp.
2011 Taggart, Travis W. Kansas Herpetological Society 2011 spring field trip to beheld in Chautauqua County. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (37):5-7
2012 Rohweder, Megan R. Spatial conservation prioritization of Kansas for terrestrial vertebrates. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 151pp.
2015 Anthony, Travis, J. Daren Riedle, Mitchell B. East, Brian Fillmore, and Day B. Ligon. Monitoring of a reintroduced population of juvenile Alligator Snapping Turtles. Chelonian Conservation and Biology, 14(1):43-48
2015 Rohweder, Megan R. Kansas Wildlife Action Plan. Ecological Services Section, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism in cooperation with the Kansas Biological Survey. 176pp.
2016 Powell, Robert, Roger Conant, and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. 494pp.
2016 Taggart, Travis W. Results of the KHS Summer field trip to Caney River, Chautauqua County, Kansas. Collinsorum 5(2-3):4-5
2017 Taggart, Travis W. and J. Daren Riedle. A Pocket Guide to Kansas Amphibians, Turtles and Lizards. Great Plains Nature Center, Wichita, Kansas. 69pp.
2018 Riedle, J. Daren, Aaron J. Place, and Steven D. Thompson The Westernmost Occurrence of the Alligator Snapping Turtle and its Implications for Conservation Collinsorum 7(1):19-20
2020 Frazee, Brent Kansas Aquatic Biodiversity Center. Kansas Wildlife and Parks Magazine May/June():24-27
2020 Riedle, J. Daren. Conservation conservations: The beast of Onion Creek. Kansas Wildlife and Parks Magazine May/June():15
2020 Riedle, J. Daren. Revisiting Kansas Herpetological Society field trip and Herp Count data: Distributional patterns and trend data of Kansas amphibians and reptiles. Collinsorum 9(1):7-16
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7/29/2020 3:14:04 PM