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Sunken Gardens’ longest-lived animal resident dies

Bill DeYoung



Sunken Gardens' Mac was an alligator snapping turtle, like this one. Mac was 50-60 years old approximately; the turtle in this photo is a 4-year-old. Photos by Amy Kagan.

This was about all vistors to Sunken Gardens usually saw of Mac, whose head (only partially visible here) was approximately the size of a softball.

He might have been in his 50s, he might have been in his 60s or older – nobody knows for sure. But Mac the alligator snapping turtle, found dead in his enclosure Monday, was one of the longest-lived residents of Sunken Gardens.

The slow-moving, solitary aquatic reptile had lived in the same shallow pool, 16 feet below street level (the lowest geographic point in the botanical gardens) since the Turner family still owned the 4th Street property.

George Turner founded Sunken Gardens in the 1920s, and his heirs sold the property to the City of St. Petersburg in 1999.

RELATED STORY: Vintage St. Pete: Sunken Gardens

“Back in the early days, the Turner family didn’t document everything as well as probably we do today,” said Sunken Gardens supervisor Dwayne Biggs. “We do believe he came here sometime in the ‘60s. He was about the size of a platter.”

When he died, Mac had a carapace (upper shell) length of 31 inches, and weighed approximately 160 pounds. Fully-grown males are known to exceed 220 pounds.

Captive alligator snapping turtles have lived to 70 years of age.

Although its primary function is as a botanical garden, there have always been birds and animals at Sunken Gardens. Redfoot tortoises and Eastern box turtles – some likely as old as Mac – are currently on exhibit.

“The Turners had almost a mini-zoo in some respects,” Biggs said. “They had alligators and monkeys, aviaries and birds, goats and all kinds of things back then.”

Although the veterinary team has finished its necropsy (animal autopsy), the turtle’s cause of death has not been released.

The alligator snapping turtle rarely swims; it walks along the bottom of shallow rivers and streams and feeds on crustaceans and fish, which it lures into its open mouth by wiggling a fleshy, wormlike appendage.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists it as a threatened species, and it is protected by law in several states, including Florida.

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    October 20, 2021at8:56 pm

    I have lived in St. Petersburg for 60 years and have frequented Sunken Gardens often. I can not remember a time when the famous snapping turtle wasn’t there.

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