National Geographic : 1907 Jun
NOTES ON THE REMARKABLE HABITS OF CERTAIN TURTLES AND LIZARDS* BY H. A. LARGELAMB THE ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLE T HE alligator snapping turtle (Ma crochelys lacertina) is found in the Mississippi River and the other rivers flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, all the way from Texas to Flor ida and as far north as Missouri. Although turtles are not provided with teeth, the bite of this giant turtle may well be feared, for it is quite capable of snap ping off a finger or hand at a single bite. It possesses a pair of keen-edge cutting mandibles and jaw muscles of great power. It snaps off a large section of a fish like a shad as cleanly as though re moved .with a cutting die. It is unable, however, to swallow its food unless its head is completely immersed. If kept in water too shallow for this, it would starve in the midst of plenty. It could take the food, but could not swallow it. The alligator snapping turtle, when lying at the bottom of the muddy water it frequents, can hardly be distinguished from a great boulder stone embedded in the mud. It is provided with a very re markable appendage, which it uses to entice fish right into its mouth. The ap pendage is found on the inside of the lower jaw, close to the region of the tongue. Mr Raymond Lee Ditmars, in his fascinating book upon Reptiles, says: "This is a well-developed filament of flesh, white, and distinct from the yellow ish mouth parts, and resembling a large grub to such a degree of nicety that the popular-minded observer, seeing the ob ject in the reptile's mouth, would declare it to be the larva of some insect. More striking, however, is the reptile's power to keep this appendage in motion, giving it the aspect of crawling about in a small, circular course. "With the mud-colored shell lying close to the bottom, the jaws thrown open to a great extent, this organ is put in motion. Every other portion of the oreat ure is as motionless as a rock. In this position of rigidity the shell looks like a great, round stone, and blotches of fine waving moss intensify the deception; the big head looks like another stone, be neath which there is a cavern, and in this cavern crawls the white grub, to all ap pearances, an object dear to the hearts of finny wanderers. But woe to the luck less fish that swims within reach of those yawning jaws." LIZARDS' TAILS We are all more or less familiar with the difficulty of catching lizards without causing them to lose their tails. The tails come off on the slightest provocation. This decapitation-or, rather, decauda tion-is not of so much consequence to a cold-blooded reptile as it would be to a mammal, like a dog or cat; for the lizard soon grows another tail, which, though it may not equal the original tail in length, is yet a good serviceable organ. How many times the tail may be removed and yet be replaced we do not know. The removal of the tail is not always the result of violence, for some lizards, the plated lizards, for example, are able to discard the tail voluntarily in the face of an enemy. The abandoned tail acts as a decoy to the pursuer. The tail wrig gles and writhes and thrashes about with such liveliness among the dead leaves into which it is thrown as to distract the attention of the pursuer, and thus the original owner escapes. The glass "snake," which is really a lizard, although it has no feet, is unable to make much speed; and for this reason * A review of "The Reptile Book," by Raymond L. Ditmars, Curator of Reptiles in the New York Zoological Park, with 8 plates in color and more than 400 photographs from life. Pp. 475. 10 x 8 inches. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co. 1907.