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An alligator snapping turtle sits in a pebbled habitat with its large bulbous head facing the viewer, opening its hooked beak wide.

Alligator Snapping Turtle

The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle species in North America, yet also one of the best camouflaged. Looking like an algae-covered boulder—adults can be more than a 2 feet long and weigh 175 pounds—this ambush hunter hides in plain sight of its prey.

A photo of the side of an alligator snapping turtle's large, spear-shaped head. The turtle has small fleshy spikes running from underneath its beak to its thick wrinkled neck.

Gone fishing

Alligator snappers let their food come to them. A turtle sits with jaws agape, flexing a secret weapon: a wriggling pink filament on the tongue that looks like a juicy worm. When a fish, frog, aquatic bird, rodent, or smaller turtle is lured in, an alligator snapper's baited trap snaps shut with enough force to lift the turtle off the bottom of its habitat. Shedd's alligator snapper has learned to come to a feeding station—just like the whales and dolphins do. He can also crawl onto a scale to be weighed, taking part in his own wellness care.

Protected in Illinois

Alligator snapping turtles have been hunted for meat to the point that they are scarce or gone in much of their historic range in the southeastern United States. Destruction of their wetland habitats has made it even harder for these slow-moving, prehistoric-looking animals to survive. The species is now protected in many states, including Illinois, the northernmost tip of its range.

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