Even powerful creatures like Alligator Snapping Turtles need a little help sometimes – that’s why the Nashville Zoo is headstarting 30 young snappers for eventual release into Tennessee’s waterways.
The hatchlings came to Nashville from the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma and are now being cared for behind-the-scenes at the zoo. The hatchlings will remain at the zoo for three years, after which they will be released into the wild as part of a statewide program to boost populations of Alligator Snapping Turtles.
Photo Credit: Katie Gregory
Headstarting programs like this can help bring species back from the brink. Female Alligator Snapping Turtles don’t produce large quantities of eggs, and many eggs laid in the wild are lost to predation. By collecting eggs from wild females, raising hatchlings in a protected environment, and releasing juveniles once they have attained a larger size, biologists can boost the number of surviving young.
With their expertise at caring for animals in aquariums and controlled environments, zoos are recognized as vital partners in the fight to save native species.
After the Turtles’ release, zoo staff will monitor the young to determine the success of the headstarting program.
Weighing 50-100 pounds as adults, Alligator Snapping Turtles are almost prehistoric in appearance. They spend nearly all of their life in water, feeding on fish and other aquatic animals. To lure prey within striking distance, these Turtles sit with mouths open to reveal a small, pink, worm-like appendage in the back of the mouth. Once the prey swims close enough, the Turtle clamps down on it with powerful jaws.
Once inhabiting most of the rivers in the Mississippi watershed, Alligator Snapping Turtles (not to be confused with Common Snapping Turtles, which are abundant in waterways across the region) were decimated in the 1960s and 70s by commercial harvesting for their meat. Today, habitat loss, egg predation, and the high rate of hatchling predation threaten the species.