The massive Alligator Snapping Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in North America. Recent research in the Museum’s collection recognized three distinct species, one based on this specimen collected by student George Zug, who became a Smithsonian Curator.


Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys suwanniensis)
From Alachua Co., Florida, Apr. 1962




The massive Alligator Snapping Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in North America. Recent research based on the scientific collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History recognized three distinct species. However, this remains debated among scientists, with some arguing that there are in fact only two distinct living species. As more genetic and anatomical data are analyzed for Alligator Snapping Turtles, scientists may find more fine-scale anatomical differences supporting the existence of more than two species.

This particular specimen is tied to the strong tradition at the University of Florida of the study of amphibians and reptiles, known as herpetology. This specimen was collected here in Alachua County in 1962 by a young master’s student named George Zug. Dr. Zug went on to become the curator of herpetology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. Now retired, Dr. Zug of is just one of many examples of students that have passed through the Florida Museum of Natural History and gone on to important roles in the scientific community. Though his work later turned to other topics, including the reptiles and amphibians of both Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands, the collections made decades ago by Dr. Zug and other fellow students in the Museum continue to contribute to our understanding of Florida’s biodiversity.

Dave Blackburn
Associate Curator, Herpetology*
Florida Museum of Natural History


On display Sept. 23, 2017-Jan. 7, 2018, Rare, Beautiful & Fascinating: 100 Years @FloridaMuseum celebrated the Museum’s rich history. Each Museum collection was asked to contribute its most interesting items and share the stories that make them special. Though the physical exhibit is closed, this companion website remains online, providing an opportunity to experience the Florida Museum’s most treasured specimens.

Exhibit Area: Faces of the Museum

Theme: Exceptional Students

Cover of the All Things Beautiful bookWant to see more? Explore more than 300 breathtaking color photos of plants, animals, fossils and cultural heritage materials from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s collections in the award-winning book All Things Beautiful available from the University Press of Florida.

*This title was accurate at the time the exhibit was on display in 2017. Please visit the collection website to verify current staff and student information.

You Might Also Like