If you ever believed that turtles are gentle and harmless creatures that pose a threat to no one, you might actually be wrong; there are quite few badass turtles in the wild as well. Consider the alligator snapping turtles for instance. Named after their seemingly alligator like appearance; these exotic turtles survive on a purely carnivorous diet and spend most of their time below water hunting for prey. And now, researchers claim to have found two more species to add to that list. Wondering how a turtle could ever be violent and actually hunt? Thinking whether then name of the turtle has something to do with its diet? Wondering what’s so important about this new finding? Well this article will answer all your doubts on these prehistoric alligator snappers, just read on.
What are Alligator snapping turtles?
Alligator snapping turtles, as the name leads one to believe, actually don’t have anything to do with alligators. And these particular species don’t even look like them; they actually look more like dinosaurs. They have a characteristic spiked shell and a fairly agile scaly tail which they use to stabilize when underwater. But the most prominent feature of the alligator snapping turtle is its mouth; shaped like the beak of bird, the reptile uses it effectively to lure its prey and snatch it in a blink of an eye. Though as terrifying as it may sound, these turtles actually just feed on fishes and frogs, so they don’t actually pose any threat to humans or any other large marine creatures. But don’t go too easy on them; their prehistoric looks alone can still give you plenty of nightmares.
New addition to the family
The alligator snapping turtle or scientifically the MacrochelysTemminickii was long thought to be a lonely species with no similar descendants except for the prehistoric fossils. But researchers, after years of tracking, collecting blood samples and running DNA tests, now confirm that the commonly found snapper turtles in the Southeastern United states are not just one species but actually three. The newly found species have been named M. Suwannensis and M. Apalaichicolae after the rivers and canals they are highly endemic to. The two new species seem to have a very different DNA structure from their parent species and have some strikingly different physical characteristics as well. For instance, the M. Suwannensis has a unique shell structure, much more curved than the M. Temminickii.
Why the late discovery?
For one, the snapper turtles, despite their terrifying looks, are actually pretty land shy and spend most of their time underwater. So it is extremely rare to even see an alligator snapper turtle in the open except during the mating season. Secondly, the only known link to the reptile existed on earth 16 million years ago, so determining the genealogy and hence the different subspecies is almost impossible. And finally, the snapper turtles are highly endemic to the region and rarely shift to other areas. So spotting two dissimilar snapper turtles and observing different behaviors in the subspecies is extremely difficult as well.
Good news or Bad news?
On one hand, the researchers are quite excited about the discovery of two new species and are actually happy that the infamous alligator snapper turtle is no longer a lonely species. But they are also concerned that the threat of extinction has now only tripled due to the recent discovery. Since the snapper turtles rarely migrate or leave a region, they are in a much higher risk of extinction due to habitat loss. Due to excessive poaching and dredging of the river channels, the population of the alligator snapper turtles has already been greatly reduced. And still illegal hunting of the turtles for their meat and shells continue. This has only caused concern that this discovery might only be short lived as the disappearance of the turtles from one region can mean the extinction of an entire species.