Alligator snapping turtle, nearly extinct in Kansas, could be listed as threatened species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday it had proposed listing the turtles under the Endangered Species Act.

By: - November 9, 2021 11:06 am

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Federal wildlife officials have proposed listing the “dinosaurs of the turtle world” as a threatened species, citing habitat loss across much of their range. 

Alligator snapping turtles have powerful jaws that come to a point and tough spiny shells. Adult males can weigh nearly 250 pounds, making them the largest freshwater turtle in North America. 

“These magnificent reptiles are sometimes called the dinosaurs of the turtle world because they look very prehistoric,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, a regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a news release.

The service announced Monday that it proposed listing the turtles as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, saying the alligator snapping turtle had suffered overharvesting, nest predation and other threats.

“The impacts of overharvesting and other human activities, along with the reality that they take up to 21 years to reproduce, combined to put the alligator snapping turtle in peril,” Miranda-Castro said. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned in 2012 to list the turtle and 52 other species of reptiles and amphibians as threatened or endangered. It released an analysis of the species in March. 

Historically, the turtle was found across 14 states in the Midwest and Southeast, especially along the Mississippi River. The reptile is typically found in large rivers and major tributaries but also occupies smaller bodies of water. But the turtle’s range has shrunk at the northern end in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. 

In Kansas, “it is unknown if any populations or even individuals still persist,” according to the March analysis.  

Across that range, officials estimate between 68,154 and 1.4 million turtles remain, which “illustrates the very high degree of uncertainty” about the abundance of the turtles. 

According to wildlife officials’ modeling, without action, the turtle is expected to disappear from most of its range within 50 years. 

USFWS will take public comment on the proposed listing until Jan. 10 at http://regulations.gov under docket number FWS-R4-ES-2021-0115. It plans to host a virtual public meeting Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. central time. Participants can register at https://www.fws.gov/southeast/lafayette/news/.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.

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