First alligator snapping turtle in decades spotted in Illinois
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A scientist was searching for a young male alligator snapping turtle. It was put in a Southern Illinois creek. It was put there at least a year ago. But he grabbed a 22-pound adult female instead. This raised hopes for those trying to protect the creature. It hadn't been spotted in the area for three decades.
Chris Phillips made the discovery. He works at the Illinois Natural History Survey. He is a herpetologist. The turtle he found was at least 18 years old. He called his discovery a "move in the right direction.” This is in the effort to save the state-endangered species.
The discovery was chronicled in an article in this month's Southeastern Naturalist. It was co-authored by Ethan Kessler. He is a graduate student. He is studying natural resources and environmental sciences. He goes to the University of Illinois.
"It gives us hope that reproduction is happening," Kessler said.
Both Kessler and Phillips aren't quite sure what exactly the find says about these secretive creatures. The creatures have been around for millions of years. This particular turtle was living in Union County's Clear Creek. Scientists have been releasing turtles there. No wild alligator turtles had been found in Illinois since 1984.
"Maybe there is a hidden population we don't know about," Kessler said. He added that it's more likely that this turtle was just the last survivor of what was once a bigger population of turtles. Or, it could have been a hearty traveling turtle. It may have made its way up the Mississippi River.
However it got there, before it was found by Phillips it found at least one other turtle. The scientists know that because Phillips had been reaching for a smaller male turtle. It was wearing a radio transmitter.
The water is very murky. So Phillips had no way of knowing that he was grabbing the bigger turtle and not the smaller one.
The scientists wanted to track the female turtle. But they can’t due to technical failure.
"We put a transmitter (on the larger turtle) but the battery died three months later," Phillips said. "She's in there but there is no way we're going to find her."