Sex ratios in naturally incubating Macrochelys temminckii nests, a species with type II temperature-dependent sex determination


The alligator snapping turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, exhibits type II temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), wherein females are produced at high and low incubation temperatures. This TSD pattern is well studied at constant temperatures, but little work has focused on sex ratios in natural nests that experience daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations. We monitored nesting activity of reintroduced Macrochelys temminckii at Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge in 2010-2011. Nests located prior to predation were excavated to determine clutch size and the eggs were reburied with a temperature data logger to collect nest temperatures. Overall, 24% of nests were protected with wire mesh prior to predation, and the average clutch size in intact nests was 22.4 eggs. Nest predation rates in the study population will likely approach 100% if nest protection efforts do not continue. Temperature profiles were used to compare estimated sex ratios using two methods-mean nest temperature during middle third of incubation and the degree-day model"”to actual sex ratios in naturally incubated Macrochelys temminckii nests. The sex ratio in all 2010 recruits was female-biased (91.8% female); 2011 nests did not produce any hatchlings, likely the result of severe drought. The predicted sex ratios based on mean nest temperature and the degree-day model matched actual sex ratios in the warmer nests (0% male), but the degree-day model estimate proved more accurate in the cooler nest. A strongly skewed population sex ratio could become a threat to this reintroduced population if the strongly female-biased sex ratio in 2010 reflects a long-term trend.



Document Type




Incubation, Macrochelys temminckii, Turtles, Temperature-dependent sex determination, Thermal ecology

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Thermal Biology