Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) populations have declined across much of the southeastern United States in recent decades, due at least in part to overcollection. Recently, however, legal protection from large-scale harvesting has been granted to the species in all states where it is native, thereby drastically reducing one of the greatest threats to its survival. There is growing interest in captive propagation of alligator snapping turtles for reintroduction where populations have been decimated. In conjunction with one such effort, we analyzed the physiological effects of temperature on embryonic and posthatching development. Results indicate that extreme high and low incubation temperatures negatively affected embryo survival, and high incubation temperatures corresponded with shorter incubation time but also produced smaller hatchlings. The effects of temperature on gonadal differentiation indicated that the upper pivotal temperature was approximately 27.5°C. Posthatching growth was faster at warmer water temperatures, and there was little to no acclimation of metabolic rate to exposure to either incubation or water temperature. We conclude that intermediate (27.5°–28.5°C) incubation temperatures produce a female-biased mixed sex ratio and maximize hatching success and hatchling size while increasing incubation duration only slightly over that at the higher temperatures. In addition, posthatching growth was positively influenced by hatchling body temperature; therefore, warmer water temperatures (∼30°C) decreased the time required to rear turtles to a size suitable for reintroduction.
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Vol. 8 • No. 1