The extremely rare, utterly impressive and scary looking alligator snapping turtle is actually even more rare than first thought, according to a study out of Florida this week.
Researchers in in the sunshine state have found that the scaly creature, once common to Houston, is actually just one of three different kinds of the turtles.
Until this week the species has been collectively known as macrochelys temminckii and nicknamed the ‘dinosaur of the turtle world’ because of it’s fiercesome look and massive size. It can reach up to 200 pounds in weight.
Now two new species names have been added after scientists found distinct differences between the turtles that have grown up in river systems across the Gulf states.
The new study looked at data from turtles still in the wild as well as fossils that date back 15-16 million years and determined the turtles developed differently according to their geographical placing.
It means that the few who still live in East Texas are the last remaining of their kind, with just close relatives living across state lines, rather than direct decsendents.
A figure for how many of these prehistoric-looking beasts remain does not exist. Their shy nature and nocturnal lifestyle make it almost impossible to count them.
Some estimate the Suwannee still has around a 1000 of them but that figure could be much lower in East Texas and Louisiana because of the love of local populations for turtle soup.
“Whenever the (federal authorities) banned sea turtles from harvest, all the people, especially in New Orleans, who wanted turtle soup, turned to freashwater turtles,” said Thomas, “That was alligator snapping turtles, they hit them hard and they hit them hard in a short amount of time.”
I’m sorry, but a magnificent creature like this deserves a better fate than being wiped out by foodies. They’re not currently listed as endangered, but perhaps this re-classification will cause a review of that. At the very least, chefs ought to find more plentiful turtles to use in their soup.