Turtles

Our Park Species Lists page has a complete list of turtles and other species found in the Big Thicket.

 
close up of alligator snapping turtle on grass
Alligator snapping turtle

Photo: USFWS, Gary Stolz

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Macrochelys temminckii

This large turtle gets its name from its formidable jaws and ridges along its shell that resemble the ridges on the backs of alligators.

They are not commonly seen because they spend almost all of their time in the water, though females will venture onto land when they are nesting. Alligator snapping turtles have been recorded to be as large as 250 pounds (though it’s possible that they can grow larger, it hasn’t been verified).

They are opportunistic carnivores that will eat whatever they can get, but mostly live off of fish, molluscs, and amphibians. They’ve also been known to snatch mammals who get too close to the water. Alligator snapping turtles frequently live to be over a hundred and it is thought that they can live to be two hundred years old. When you encounter alligator snapping turtles you should give them their space! They can bite off fingers, but they typically won’t bite unless provoked.

Alligator snapping turtle females will build nests for their eggs in late spring. Mothers do not take care of their young after laying the eggs. Like alligators, the temperature of the nest determines whether the baby alligator snapping turtles will be male or female. Warmer temperatures produce more males, so rising temperatures in response to climate change could pose a threat to alligator snapping turtles in the future. Alligator snapping turtles are currently considered vulnerable due to habitat destruction and harvesting for meat and the illegal pet trade.

 
 
closeup of an eastern box turtle
Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina)

NPS Photo

Box Turtles

Genus: Terrapene

There are more than one species of box turtle found in Big Thicket National Preserve, and they are one of the commonly seen turtles in the area.They are most active during the day, which could explain why they are seen more often than more nocturnal reptiles.

Box turtles are omnivorous, eating everything from berries to fungi to insects. They prefer to be near water sources, but are also frequently seen trying to cross the road. Box turtles all have domed shells that they can retreat into when they feel threatened. Like many reptiles, turtles brumate to make it through the winter, burrowing into the soil to escape cold winter temperatures.

Box turtles lay eggs in June or July. Females will often lay their eggs at night, despite being diurnal. Females will dig out nests in soil in sunny areas with their hind legs. Box turtles usually lay 3-6 eggs. Eggs generally hatch two to three months after being laid, but if the eggs are laid late in the season eggs will sometimes remain in the ground until spring when temperatures are warmer.

 
 
 
Allard, H. A. (1935). The natural history of the box turtle. The Scientific Monthly, 41(4), 325-338.

Ligon, D. B., & Lovern, M. B. (2009). Temperature effects during early life stages of the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). Chelonian Conservation and Biology, 8(1), 74-83.

Reed, R. N., Congdon, J., Gibbons, J. W., & Drawer, E. (2002). The Alligator Snapping Turtle.

Stickel, L. F. (1950). Populations and home range relationships of the box turtle, Terrapene c. carolina (Linnaeus). Ecological Monographs, 20(4), 351-378.
 

Turtle Research in the National Parks

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    Last updated: February 27, 2021

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