Close Encounters Man vs. Nature

Prehistoric-looking alligator snapping turtle is not wanted in Oregon

'Dinosaur of the turtle world,' discovered by an angler, is the first of these invasive critters to be found in the state, and hopefully the last

Alligator snapping turtle held by Biologist Jason Journey at Prineville Reservoir. Credit for all images: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Biologist Jason Journey poses with invasive alligator snapping turtle captured at Prineville Reservoir. Credit for all images: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

A fisherman at Prineville Reservoir in Oregon was startled last Friday to spot a large, prehistoric-looking creature cruising along the surface.

Wildlife experts were notified and the next day the creature, an exotic alligator snapping turtle, was captured and euthanized. (Rick Boatner of the Oregon Department of Wildlife explained that it could not be relocated because of disease issues that could threaten other populations. He added that “their large size, aggressive behavior and very long life span makes them difficult to place.”)

This week there’s concern about the possibility that others of its kind are in Prineville—or elsewhere in Oregon. This is the first known find of what’s sometimes referred to as “the dinosaur of the turtle world” in Oregon, and hopefully the last.

Close-up of the alligator snapping turtle

Close-up of the alligator snapping turtle

Why?

Because alligator snapping turtles, with their scaly tails, spiked shells, and powerful beaked jaws, do not belong anywhere but their native southeastern United States habitat (where they’re a threatened species). There, in swamps and river and canals, they help balance the ecosystem.

Beyond that territory, though, they’re regarded as pests with the potential to adversely impact native fishes, amphibians, and small ducks. They also can spread disease to native species, and their powerful bite makes them somewhat dangerous to humans.

Moreover, the alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the United States. It can weigh at least 220 pounds and an unverified report from Kansas, in 1937, placed the weight of one specimen at 403 pounds.

How the much smaller alligator snapping turtle made it into Prineville Reservoir is anyone’s guess, but it’s believed that it was released by someone who had owned the critter as a pet, and released it when it became too large to care for.

Its shell will be used as part of an educational display of invasive, or non-native species, according to the Idaho Statesman Journal.

“We already have problems in the Willamette Valley with common snapping turtles,” said Rick Boatner, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “I’d hate to see these turtles get established in Oregon.”

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