Alligator Snapping Turtle

She's alive!


Although a sign above the ABQ BioPark’s alligator snapping turtle Wilson says “It’s Alive,” many visitors question whether this large reptile is indeed living. That’s because she rarely moves—the species is adapted to sitting very still, but if you observe closely you may see her “flick” her tongue to catch a meal.

Wilson has been alive and thriving since she was born in the early 1970s (the species’ lifespan is a bit of a mystery, but biologists think they can reach up to 200 years of age in the wild). She came to the BioPark in 2012.

The alligator snapping turtle may look like a relic of the past, but this modern-day reptilian can be found swimming in rivers and streams in the southeastern United States. It gets its name from its immensely powerful jaws and shell ridges that appear similar to the rough, ridged skin of an alligator. This giant is one of the heaviest freshwater turtles in the world— though the largest verified size is up for debate, a 403-pound alligator snapping turtle was discovered in Kansas in 1937.

Opportunistic meat eaters that hunt and scavenge for food, their diet consists primarily of fish and fish carcasses. They are also known to eat snakes, crayfish, worms, water birds, aquatic plants and other turtles. Occasionally, they may even prey on aquatic rodents and mid-sized mammals like squirrels and raccoons. Although not a regular food source, alligator snapping turtles have been known to eat small American alligators.

Here at the BioPark, Wilson eats fish and rodents. Staff say she is very active during feeding time and when she sets up her ambush site in the mornings.