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Alligator snapping turtle: Nashville resident?

August 22nd, 2008 · 22 Comments · Radnor Lake, turtles

alligator snapping turtle - living in Nashville, Tennessee??I have long suspected that the alligator snapper resides at Radnor Lake, but I have no evidence to present. There was, however, some convincing hearsay from a nurse walking on Otter Creek Road with her young daughter. She confidently answered a couple of questions about a supposedly amazing, huge turtle sighting she had within the last year, and her answers pointed to the Alligator Snapper. Two primary characteristics the aforementioned road-crossing turtle had were the large size and the prominently ridged carapace, or shell.

alligator snapping turtle in mullet hands - living in Nashville, Tennessee??However, Dr. James T. Arnett, a longtime family friend and biology professor at Lipscomb University (see his comment under this post), has conducted extensive, formal turtle research at Radnor Lake spanning several years, and he seems nearly positive that the Alligator Snapper is NOT a local resident.

My longtime fascination with the alligator snapper finally came to mind while I was online, so I started digging around a bit. The results were surprising and encouraging, given the fact that the “official” (i.e., per a rather dated Petersen Field Guide I pulled off my bookshelf) range of the Alligator Snapping Turtle does NOT include Nashville – although Nashville DOES have an “X” on the map, meaning that the species has been spotted in Nashville by a credible herpetologist or similar professional.

alligator snapping turtle - living in Nashville, Tennessee??The Army Corps of Engineers says alligator snappers are Tennessee residents (see Corps Inventory). Of course, this does not make them Radnor Lake residents, necessarily; however, given the completely wild and unspoiled environment of Radnor Lake, I would be rather surprised to find the alligator snapping turtle dwells in Nashville but NOT at Radnor Lake. (NOTE: I have no evidence of Nashville residency for alligator snappers; the Corps of Engineers lists them in the Memphis area, not Nashville.)

On the other hand, how on earth would an alligator snapper make its way to Radnor Lake? It is fascinating how creatures populate new areas. How did ANY of the aquatic reptiles and amphibians come to make their home at Radnor? Obviously they were either released there or made their way over land. That is a mind bender to be addressed at another time, perhaps, but suffice it to say that perhaps spontaneous generation theories from the 1800s and earlier were not as idiotic as once I figured.

I would love to see an Alligator snapper in the wild, but collecting wild specimens of this protected turtle is prohibited in Tennessee and a few other states. I see Common Snapping Turtles quite frequently at Radnor Lake, and some of them are huge in relation to the commons I have seen and/or captured (and released) in Brown’s Creek during my childhood. But get this:

There is an unverified report of a 403-pound alligator snapping turtle found in the Neosho River in Kansas in 1937, but the largest one actually on record is 236 lb, and housed at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. They generally do not grow quite that large. Average adult size is around 26 inches shell length with a weight of 175 lb. Males are typically larger than females. Alligator snapping turtles can also range in length from 16 to 32 inches. (Source: Wikipedia.com)

Now there’s a turtle I would like to see; and I’m not proud of the fact that snapping turtle soup also came to mind. (I have enjoyed this delicacy three or four times at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse over the years, but I would not support such a menu item if I learned that any cruelty was involved in obtaining this soup ingredient.

Actually, I just found this here:

World’s Largest Alligator Snapping Turtle – Chattanooga – This turtle is on display at the Tennessee Aquarium at One Broad Street in Chattanooga. As the world’s largest alligator snapping turtle, he tips the scales at 249 pounds. His species is unique to America. The turtle is highly secretive in its natural habitat, walking along stream bottoms, hiding during daylight hours and becoming active at night. Unlike other aquatic turtles, alligator snappers cannot remain submerged for long periods of time, and are considered an ambush predator, entices fish within striking distance by a pseudo-annelid lure located on the floor of its mouth. Snappers are considered dangerous when provoked and do not let go once they have closed their beak. Alligator snapping turtles have been around since dinosaurs ruled the earth, are declining in this century and may one day be extinct. 800-262-0695; www.tnawua.org

Update: April 2012

There is still no official evidence placing the alligator snapping turtle in or around Nashville’s Radnor Lake State Natural Area…

Alligator snapping turtles: Reference material, PDFs

  1. Alligator Snapping Turtle – University of Georgia (17 pages)
  2. Alligator Snapping Turtle – Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife (2 pages)
  3. Alligator Snapping Turtle – Denver Zoo (2 pages)

Resources: Alligator snapping turtle: Nashville resident?

Resources: Nashville herpetologists & reptile lovers

This post was started on Friday, August 22, 2008.

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22 Comments so far ↓

  • Jim Arnett

    I can only confirm here what Stephen has said above: After five years of fairly steady collections in Radnor Lake, I have never captured or observed an alligator snapper there. Some of the common snappers in Radnor are quite old and large–both males and females. For some people, sheer size is enough to convince them that they have seen an alligator snapper. But the three dorsal ridges of spines are a telltale mark that you will not see as prominently on the common snapper. Having said all of that, I’m afraid it is quite possible that someone has–or eventually will—introduce an alligator snapper to Radnor Lake simply based on past human tendencies. Unfortunately, Radnor’s proximity to the metropolitan population has one downside and it is the temptation for folks to drop off pets and unwanted captive animals there.

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  • William

    Lot of species we thought weren’t here, somehow are. Armadillos, for example. Also there were persistent reports of bear in Cheatham county. And who woulda I’d find this giant rattlesnake in the back of my friend’s house not far from downtown Nashville?

  • blake englehart

    i do not like snapping turtles. 1 bit my finger off

  • Tokarev

    Just found your blog while searching for hiking trails in Tennessee.

    I wouldn’t doubt that there is Snapping turtles in Radnor lake as I remember seeing snappers in Nashville back in 1970.

    There is a small pond near Couchville lake that is full of them. Ever seen painted turtles (like a kids used to buy in pet shops) that have shells a foot long? You’d find them there.

    They would be hibernating at this time of year, but on a hot sunny day, you can count 10-18 sunning on the surface of the pond.

    I like your site and have added it to my favorites.

  • wonderwoman!!

    <p>yeah.. don’t believe the whole 400 pound turtle but cool stuff.. </p>

  • Mel

    Interesting info you have here. This is a good site as well… http://www.ncaquariums.com/crunch-time-at-the-aquarium

  • Jagger

    hello my name is Jagger and i have a alligator snapping turtle.His name is wrosco…..

  • Lynn

    Hello everyone,
    I’m a firt time viewer of this websight.
    I was looking for pis of an AST as I was told that this is the kind of turtle I have.
    My dog was barking lke Ive never heard her do, so I stepped out back to see what was going on and there laid a turtle over a foot long. I’d never seen one this size that was not in an aqarium!
    I want to add pics so maye someone could tell me if is an AST. It looks like one of the pics on this sight only, it’s shell is flat.
    Your help would appreciated!
    Oh yes, I live in Louisville.

  • Enemie7

    I have a 350 pound snapping turtle in my backyard right now. It is not a alligator snapper But it is still amazing. I am doing an experiment with this turtle and seeing if he makes it through the winter in my horse tank. Although he will be made into turtle soup this upcoming spring.I found this turtle in the highway among with 12 spectators poking it with a stick , i asked if any one was keeping the turtle and everyone was to scared to touch the animal so i called for help and we lifted the beast into my truck with out hesitation.And i dont think this turtle is aggressive in any way, his new name is mertle.

  • Lynne

    I know they are in Middle Tennessee, because I’ve seen them in Ashland City and in Cedar Hill.

  • Lynne

    P.S. — Yes, I do know quite a bit about turtles, so I can assure you that they are Alligator Snappers.

  • Lynne

    Mr. Arnett,
    Are you saying that it would not be legal to release a baby Alligator Snapper into Radnor Lake?

  • Jay Edwards

    I discovered an alligator snapping turtle in the bend of the creek that flows behind my home in Meridian, MS– a creek.
    I was camcording the minnows hit the bait I had tossed in at the bend ( maybe 3 foot deep, max,below a tree whose root system must be home for the monster )– when I saw this wiggling worm…. I pulled back on the zoom.. and immediately saw it was attached to the tongue of a giant turtle.
    He is indeed active by day… the creek is about 12 feet down… and.. if I walk up normally, I never see him… but if I creep up quietly, I often do– its as if he can “hear” my footsteps..
    I left some eggs on the bed of the creek for the racoons– and– I walked out the next day to see the turtle on the bare creek bed eating away
    The look he gave me was unforgettable, even peering down from 10 feet up–he quickly disappeared into the bend–

    This is a very shallow creek– that barely supports minnows– nothing larger. After culverts were installed to control flooding 20 odd years ago, I would guess the average depth cannot be more than 6 inches, except during a rainfall…. the crrek empties into Sowashee Creek, which must eventually empty into the Gulf.

  • stephanie

    I would like to know about owning a large turtle as a pet have had small ones for pet but want a very large turtle.

  • anthony

    if anyone has one to get rid of i would like to get one for my aquarium phon is 1 812 490 3140 my name is yony please call. an ast.

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  • Stephen

    Amazing! I wish I could find one. Very cool!

  • james

    I just caught a baby alligator turtle in my pond 1 hour ago. its in my fish tank now if anyone wants to see pics. I live 30 min from nashville, my house backs up to the cumberland. I think I have the parent of the baby in my pond as well. I saw it about a week ago and was easily over 200lbs. I dont plan on keeping the turtle in my fish tank I just had to bring it up to my house so my wife would finally believe me about what I saw. I wondered why I dont have a lot of big fish in my pond. Now it all makes since.

  • Skye Tincher

    I live in Cedar Hill about 45 min north of Nashville and I’ve caught and released 5 alligator snapping turtles this year. All near ponds. Pulled two out of the road and put Em in the ponds. So I’m pretty positive they are in Nashville. I’ve seen about a hundred around here since I was little anywhere from 10 to 85 lbs.

  • Starlight Engram

    What amazes me more than any skepticism about the presence of dangerous turtles in Tennessee lakes is the picture of that guy holding that alligator snapping turtle. That turtle has a neck that can reach up, out, and back close to the shell with that pit-bull dog bite like as if it was a snake with no neck bones. Maybe it was the flsh cube that blinded the turtle and disoriented it. I wouldn’t want to get within 10 feet of that dinosaur-eating monster.