Alligator Snapping Turtles
Action Update from the May 2009 WildSide
Commonly confused with the common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina ,which is found throughout Oklahoma, the alligator snapping turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, is restricted to portions of the Arkansas River and Red River watersheds in the eastern quarter of the state. Unlike the common snapping turtle, the alligator snapping turtle spends its whole life in a small area with females only leaving the water to lay eggs which minimizes its dispersal capability.
Due to several man-made causes such as commercial harvest for
their meat and destruction of habitat, the populations of
alligator snapping turtles have steadily declined over the past
century. An effort to develop a program to restock populations
in watersheds is currently being considered. Two captive
populations of turtles exist in Oklahoma that could be used as
brood stock for this type of project. A private breeder in Perry
has a stock of alligator snappers from Missouri. Additionally,
the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery houses captive-bred
Oklahoma State University conducted a study to test if potential negative impacts exist in restocking this species if genetic differences exist between river drainages. Alligator snapping turtles were captured from tributaries occurring in Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, Little River NWR, the Kiamichi River, and the area around Lake Eufaula. Captured individuals were marked and a sample of blood samples was collected from which DNA was extracted. Additionally, DNA was extracted from blood samples collected from individuals in the populations at the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery and the captive populations in Perry.
Results showed there was a lack of genetic variation among native turtles and captive alligator snapping turtles. Therefore, with a proper management and restocking plan, the two captive populations would make good sources for reintroduction throughout Oklahoma which could help ensure this unique turtle’s survival.
Written by Buck Ray. Buck is the environmental biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grant Program. The
State Wildlife Grant Program provides federal money to every
state and territory for cost-effective conservation aimed at
preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. This program is
administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
and continues the long history of cooperation between the
federal government and the states for managing and conserving