The unmistakable ridges of the carapace (or shell) tell us right away that this prehistoric-looking creature is the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). It is our largest freshwater turtle, weighing up to 200 pounds. They lie in wait for prey submerged underwater and try to lure a meal into range by means of a wormlike appendage on the floor of their mouths. When a fish or other aquatic animal moves in to investigate, the turtle snaps its jaws shut. Habitat changes and over-harvest of Alligator Snapping Turtles led to their disappearance from Illinois waters. In recent years, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been working to bring back the species, reintroducing it into its southern Illinois range. Learn more about the recovery effort here.
In the Illinois State Museum Legacy Collection, skeletons of animals are kept for comparison with any that are discovered and brought to the museum by scientists or citizens for identification. They are also used in classes and to train future scientists. This “comparative osteology” collection is not something that normally would be on exhibit. However, this collection plays an equally important role for research, education, and identification.