Posted by: scrubmuncher | November 5, 2009

Scoundrels – #7

Some predators found hunting to be something of a real chore, so over the eons they evolved means of getting their food to come to them. All they have to do is sit perfectly still and wait. Perhaps the most intriguing of these lazy predators is the alligator snapping turtle, one of the most fearsome and beastly-looking reptiles on the planet and one that also happens to be number 7 in the scoundrel chart.

Macrochelys temminckii

"And where do you think you're going?"

This North American brute spends most of its time loitering on the bottom of lakes, rivers, swamps and canals. They’re very well camouflaged and in the murky depths its favoured prey, fish, probably have no idea of what terrible things lie in wait until it’s too late and they end up sliced in two by the turtle’s bolt-cropper jaws. If the turtle were to simply open its mouth and wait, it would be waiting for a very long time for a fish to blunder within range. This wouldn’t do. No, it needs something devious, something that will tempt fish within scoffing range. To this end evolution has equipped the turtle with a modified tongue that bears more than a passing resemblance to a juicy worm.

Macrochelys temminckii

Here's the 'worm' - the bright pink tip of the turtle's tongue (Jesús Mendoza)

The deliciously pink ‘worm’ stands out against the dark maw like a beacon, a too-good-to-be-true snack, the ruse further enhanced by the turtle making the ‘worm’ wriggle by twitching its tongue. Sooner or later, a greedy, albeit dim fish, sees the ‘worm’ and swims over for a closer look. It edges closer and closer to the plump ‘invertebrate’, positively salivating at the mouth, and just when it’s about to close in for the kill, the impossibly patient turtle lunges and snaps its heavy jaws shut. Who knows the last thought that went through the hapless fish’s tiny brain, but I bet it never banked on ‘that worm’ being the business end of a 50kg devil turtle.

In the above video you can see the turtle wiggling its ‘worm’.


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