Alligator Snapping Turtle Distributional Survey
Little is known about the status of alligator snapping turtles between the Ochlockonee and Suwannee rivers from Wakulla County to Dixie County. There are no museum specimens from any rivers in this part of the Florida, but there have been several unverified records. In July 2011, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) biologists began a one-year trapping study in seven rivers between the Ochlockonee and Suwannee rivers in Florida’s Big Bend region to determine whether the species is present in this apparent distributional gap.
As of December 2012, trapping in the St. Marks, Aucilla and Econfina rivers yielded no alligator snappers, and severe drought conditions prevented biologists from trapping in the other rivers in the region. They decided to extend the study for another year to allow trapping during more favorable water levels.
In addition to answering questions about the distribution of the species, this project aims to determine the relationship between alligator snappers in this region and those in surrounding areas. Recent research indicates that the population in the Suwannee River drainage is genetically and physically distinct from populations in more westerly river drainages. In fact, FWRI biologists and other scientists have submitted a manuscript for publication that describes two new species of alligator snapping turtle – the Suwannee and the Apalachicola. If any turtles are trapped in this study, researchers will conduct genetic analyses to determine whether they are more closely related to Suwannee or Apalachicola river populations.