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.
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.
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
- Alligator Snapping Turtle – University of Georgia (17 pages)
- Alligator Snapping Turtle – Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife (2 pages)
- 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.