Chicago residents were shocked and intrigued when a massive snapping turtle was spotted in the Chicago River last week. The turtle, estimated to weigh over 200 pounds and measure more than four feet in length, was seen basking on a metal chain log near the Michigan Avenue Bridge. How did such a creature end up in the urban waterway? And what impact does it have on the river’s ecosystem and human safety? In this article, we will explore four aspects of this unusual situation.
1. The Origin of the Turtle
One of the most puzzling questions is how the giant fat snapping turtle got into the Chicago River in the first place. Snapping turtles are native to North America, but they are not common in Illinois. They prefer shallow, muddy waters with abundant vegetation and prey. The Chicago River, on the other hand, is a highly modified and polluted waterway that runs through a densely populated city.
There are several possible explanations for the turtle’s presence. One is that it was released or escaped from a pet owner who could not handle its size and aggressiveness. Another is that it was transported by humans from another location, either intentionally or accidentally. A third possibility is that it migrated from a nearby lake or wetland, following the river’s current or searching for food.
2. The Diet of the Turtle
Snapping turtles are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders. They will eat almost anything they can catch or scavenge, including fish, frogs, birds, rodents, insects, plants, and carrion. They have powerful jaws and sharp beaks that can inflict serious injuries on their prey and potential predators.
The giant overweight snapping turtle in the Chicago River may have a varied and plentiful diet, given the diversity of life in the river. However, it may also pose a threat to some of the native and endangered species that inhabit the river, such as mussels, crayfish, turtles, and fish. Moreover, it may consume some of the pollutants and contaminants that are present in the river, such as heavy metals, pesticides, and microplastics. These toxins could accumulate in its body and affect its health and behavior. In fact that could be part of the reason it looks so abnormal.
3. The Impact of the Turtle
The giant fat snapping turtle in the Chicago River may have both positive and negative impacts on the river’s ecosystem, and human activities. On the positive side, it may help control some of the invasive and nuisance species that plague the river, such as carp, zebra mussels, and algae. It may also attract more public attention and interest to the river’s conservation and restoration efforts.
On the negative side, it may disrupt the balance and diversity of the river’s food web and habitat. It may also pose a danger to humans who use the river for recreation or work. Snapping turtles are known to bite when provoked or threatened, and their bites can cause severe pain, infection, and even amputation.
4. The Legal Status of the Turtle
The giant snapping turtle in the Chicago River may also raise some legal and ethical issues regarding its ownership and protection. Snapping turtles are not protected by federal or state laws in Illinois, which means they can be legally hunted, trapped, or killed by anyone with a fishing license. However, they are also considered wildlife under Illinois law, which means they cannot be kept as pets without a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Furthermore, they are subject to animal welfare laws that prohibit cruelty and neglect.
The massive turtle may belong to someone who has a valid permit from IDNR to keep it as a pet. If so, that person may be liable for any damages or injuries caused by the turtle. Alternatively, the turtle may be considered a wild animal that has no owner or legal protection. If so, anyone who wants to capture or kill it may do so at their own risk and responsibility.
5. The Future of the Turtle
The fat snapping turtle is now a legend in Chicago, but it may have an uncertain future ahead of it. Depending on its origin, diet, impact, and legal status, it may face different outcomes. Whatever happens it is undoubtedly a remarkable and rare.
If a giant rat appears near Chicago River in the next few weeks then there needs to be serious discussions around whether that is actually Master Splinter and one of his apprentices.