Monday, 24 Jun 2024

Meet ‘Chonkosaurus,’ the Thick Snapping Turtle Stealing Hearts

Even from afar, the snapping turtle perched on rusted chains in the Chicago River looked gargantuan.

Kayakers enjoying a spring outing recorded the plump reptile, marveling at its wrinkled and chunky legs and its shell, which barely covered its thick green body.

In the video, which was posted on Twitter this month, one of the men, sounding astonished, cries with an expletive: “Look at the size of that thing!”

Indeed, to honor the size of that thing, the turtle was given the name Chonkosaurus.

Chicago River Snapper aka Chonkosaurus. Great to see this beast thriving here on what was once such a toxic river, but is slowly getting cleaned up & restored. Somebody planted a bunch of native plants up the river from here, too. I can only wonder this things been eating.

Ever since, thousands of people online have heaped admiration on Chonkosaurus, writing about the beefed-up turtle and about the men whose wonderment has brought the video over 700,000 views.

The Twitter user who posted the video, Joey Santore, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Saturday night.

But the question posed online — what has the animal been eating? — prompted a flurry of speculation.

One person’s guess was simple: anything it pleases. Another guessed beef and sausages. And some, alluding to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” guessed pizza.

Perhaps the most valuable insight came from the men in the video who actually saw Chonkosaurus. “Holy hell, you look good!” one says in the video. “I’m real proud of you. You’ve been eating healthy?”

The man asks the turtle whether it has heard of liquid salad, and his friend later says it is “thick but strong.”

Chonkosaurus’s nutritional pursuit does not appear to be completely selfish, however.

Chris Anchor, a senior wildlife biologist with the Forest Preserves of Cook County, said that the turtle is female — and most likely “loaded with eggs.”

On the day the video was taken, he said, Chonkosaurus might have been sitting on a bunch of bollards and chains because she wanted her eggs to warm up and mature.

The turtle is probably about 50 years old and has finished hibernating, Mr. Anchor said.

While he did describe Chonkosaurus as “very large,” the snapping turtle is not among the largest he’s seen. Mr. Anchor, who sees around 300 to 500 turtles every year through his work, said the species can weigh as much as 60 pounds.

Though it’s difficult to tell in the video, Mr. Anchor guessed that Chonkosaurus weighed around 40 pounds.

What was more noteworthy, he said, was that the video highlighted the health of the Chicago River and surrounding land.

Mr. Anchor recalled that, when he was growing up in the 1960s, “the river was an open sewer” with only a handful of species of fish and no recreational kayaking.

After the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the water quality of the Chicago River improved substantially. Now, there are about 30 species of fish in the river, and people enjoy being on the water.

“It’s something that would not have occurred 40 years ago,” Mr. Anchor said. “You’ve got a lot more eyes in the river now that are seeing things that no one ever noticed before.”

It is hard to tell what exactly Chonkosaurus managed to snap into her belly. Large snapping turtles have been known to grab ducks on the river, drag them underneath and rip them apart in murky waters.

Particularly huge snapping turtles are also capable of ripping up deer or raccoon carcasses with their claws.

The diet of Chonkosaurus remains a mystery, but that has not slowed the online compliments and veneration. One Twitter user summed up these sentiments: “All hail Chonkosaurus.”

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