Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 7, 2023


Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950,

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Imperiled Alligator Snapping Turtles

Largest North American Freshwater Turtles Threatened by Habitat Destruction, Trapping Across Midwest, Southeast

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to force it to ensure protections for 12 plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act, including the alligator snapping turtle and Suwannee alligator snapping turtle.

Today’s lawsuit seeks final protections for the gargantuan turtles, which are threatened by habitat degradation, trapping, entanglement in fishing gear, nest predation from predators like racoons, and climate change.

“The Service must follow through with its proposal to protect these fierce and imperiled turtles,” said Elise Bennett, Florida director at the Center. “These incredible creatures lose ground in the fight against extinction each day that protections are delayed. The Endangered Species Act works, but only once those protections are in place.”

Following a 2012 Endangered Species Act listing petition and legal victory from the Center, the agency proposed protecting the Suwannee alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species in April 2021, and the alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species in November 2021. Despite finding these imperiled turtles deserve protection under the Act, the agency failed to finalize those protections for more than a year, leading to today’s litigation.

Species background

Alligator snapping turtles are enormous, prehistoric-looking reptiles that can grow to 200 pounds and can live almost 100 years. These slow-moving, largely sedentary behemoths spend so much of their time sitting on river bottoms waiting for food that algae grows thick on their shells. They use a wormlike lure on their tongues to capture prey. The turtles have no natural enemies.

However, their populations have declined by up to 95% over much of their historic range due to overharvesting and unchecked habitat degradation. The turtles are also easy prey for hunters that feed thriving world markets for the exhibition and consumption of the turtles.

Early in the 20th century alligator snapping turtles were plentiful in U.S. river systems draining into the Gulf of Mexico, from the waterways and lakes of the upper Midwest to the swamps and bayous of Florida, Louisiana and Texas. But recent population surveys show the turtles are now likely extirpated in Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.

Historically, the alligator snapping turtle was considered a single species, but more recent study supported splitting off the genetically distinct Suwannee alligator snapping turtle as a new species. The Suwannee snapper is found in its namesake Suwannee River basin in southern Georgia and northern Florida.

Alligator snapping turtle. Credit: Garry Tucker/USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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