by Bob Thomas
The largest freshwater turtle in North America is the alligator snapping turtle, Macroclemys temminckii, often locally called the loggerhead (not to be confused with the loggerhead sea turtle that is common along Louisiana’s coast).
This species is brown, has three rows of large pointed scutes down the back, a very long tail, and a massive head that cannot be entirely withdrawn into the shell. Overall, it looks like a rough stump in the water.
These turtles can grow very large - over 100 pounds, the largest being 219 pounds - and are very powerful. Undoubtedly, a very large specimen can sever a finger. The good news is that they do not generally lash out to bite; rather they sit with mouth open and bite when if something ventures inside.
They have a unique behavior for attracting a meal. As mentioned before, they resemble a log or stump on the bottom of the water body – they don’t look like a living animal in their natural habitat. The head has little appendages all over the surface that break the outline of a turtle head. They gape the mouth, and wiggle a little pink piece of flesh on the tongue that resembles a moving worm. When a fish approaches to eat the worm, the turtle takes a bite.
Alligator Snappers rarely leave the water, though they occasionally sun a little. If they do leave the water, they are usually on their way to lay up to about 50 round leathery eggs. They are, however, very good climbers, moving easily among logs and steep banks.
These animals are favored meat in turtle soup and gumbo. For this reason, they have become less common in many of our bayous, but are still a most interesting component of our ecosystem.