Chicago is not a place you normally expect to find exotic wildlife, but two local kayakers got a big surprise when they spotted an enormous creature on the Chicago River that is leaving people stunned.
In a now-viral video, two kayakers pass a giant snapping turtle lounging by the river. The men — in their distinctly Chicagoan accents — marvel at the magnificent creature.
“Look at this guy, look at the size of that thing!” one kayaker says. “Oh my god, that’s a massive turtle!” The kayakers identify it as a “Chicago River snapper.”
“Look at that beast,” the man continues. “Hey, how you doin’ guy? You look good!” The kayakers marvel at the turtle’s shape, wondering what he’s been eating, with one adding that he’s “thick but strong.”
The video was shared on Twitter by Joey Santore, who said that recent progress in cleaning up the Chicago River — long known for being heavily polluted — is clearly benefitting the local wildlife.
“Great to see this beast thriving here on what was once such a toxic river, but is slowly getting cleaned up & restored,” Santore wrote. “Somebody planted a bunch of native plants up the river from here, too. I can only wonder this things been eating.”
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. pic.twitter.com/u6bhlpo4p5
— Joey Santore (@JoeySantore) May 6, 2023
The turtle is quite a stunning creature, and many people online shared the kayaker’s awe and delight. The snapper has been nicknamed “Chonkosaurus.”
“It makes you feel pretty good,” Santore told FOX 32 Chicago. “Any time you’re in an urban area and you see a bit of nature thriving, animal or plant life, it feels pretty good.”
Local wildlife experts weighed in and said that while it may surprise some people, the Chicago River is home to all kinds of creatures.
“The river system is teaming with life,” Friends of Chicago River Executive Director Margaret Frisbie said. “There’s turtles, there’s beavers, there’s muskrats, there’s herons, there’s nearly 80 species of fish.”
Snapping turtles are not uncommon, but they are rarely seen above the surface — and few are this huge, experts say.
“What is uncommon is that a turtle of this size is actually observed,” Chris Anchor, a wildlife biologist with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, told NBC Chicago. “These turtles live on the bottom of the river and, unlike a painted turtle or red-eared slider, which are very commonly seen basking on rocks and whatnot, snapping turtles are almost never seen.”
Anchor speculated that the giant turtle had just emerged from hibernation and was trying “to gather as much heat as it could in the sunshine.”
While turtles like this are incredible to view from afar, experts say you should keep your distance: snapping turtles, living up to their name, have a strong bite.
“Snapping turtles are ill-tempered and capable of producing a very serious bite,” Friends of the Chicago River wrote on their website, saying that while they are calmer in the water they can be “very aggressive” out of the water.
Wow, that is some turtle! It’s a reminder that sometimes incredible wildlife can be found in places we least expect them — and to keep our environments clean so animals like “Chonkosaurus” can thrive!
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