First alligator snapping turtle in decades spotted in Illinois
First alligator snapping turtle in decades spotted in Illinois This Oct. 15, 2016 photo shows a rare, wild alligator snapping turtle in a creek in Union County, Ill., the first found in the state since 1984. (Courtesy of Eva Kwiatek via AP)
First alligator snapping turtle in decades spotted in Illinois
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A scientist was searching for a young male alligator snapping turtle that was put in a Southern Illinois creek at least a year ago. But instead, he grabbed a 22-pound adult female, raising hopes for those trying to protect a creature that hadn't been spotted in the area for three decades.

Chris Phillips, an Illinois Natural History Survey herpetologist, made the discovery. The turtle he found was at least 18 years old. He called his discovery a "move in the right direction" 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, a graduate student of natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois.

"It gives us hope that reproduction is happening," Kessler said.

Still, both Kessler and Phillips aren't quite sure what exactly the find says about these secretive creatures that have been around for millions of years. This particular turtle that was living in Union County's Clear Creek, where scientists have been releasing turtles in Union County's Clear Creek because no wild alligator turtles had been found in Illinois since 1984.

"Maybe there is a hidden population we don't know about," Kessler said, adding that it's more likely that this turtle was just the last survivor of what was once a bigger population of turtles or a hearty traveling turtle that somehow 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 on the day Phillips reached down and grabbed the female turtle, he thought he was reaching down for a smaller male turtle that has been wearing a radio transmitter ever since scientists released it into the same creek at least a year ago.

Because the water is so murky, Phillips had no way of knowing that he was grabbing the bigger turtle and not the smaller one. It was so close that it was ultimately pulled out of the water in the same spot, leaving both Kessler and Phillips wondering if Phillips was interrupting the kind of activity that a species needs to increase its numbers.

"He (the smaller turtle) had sidled up to her so maybe they were making plans," said Phillips.

Sadly - at least for the scientists - just what plans the turtles were making may never be known thanks to a failure in technology.

"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."

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Why is it called an “alligator snapping turtle?”
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  • BrandonB-pla
    1/29/2018 - 02:02 p.m.

    This article highlights how they were attempting to find a turtle that they had let loose earlier but ended up finding a natural turtle. They actually pulled up the wild turtle real close to where they were marking the turtle they let loose with a radio collar on. The researchers weren't sure on where the turtle came from, whether it was a natural one that was missed or it was a strong turtle that was able to make its way up through the Mississippi River. This is a good demonstration of civic engagement because these people are taking action to help restore the population of the turtle in Illinois. They aren't just giving money to someone else to do the work, they are actually giving their own time and effort for this cause.

  • EleonorW-pla
    2/06/2018 - 12:51 p.m.

    A group of scientists have been attempting to regrow the the alligator snapping turtle population in Illinois. About a year ago, they released a young adult male turtle into a Southern Illinois creek with a radio collar. While trying to relocate the turtle, they ended up finding a wild female, who they estimate is about 18 years old. This gives scientists hope that the alligator snapping turtle population is back on the rise in the area. Sadly, this is often the case for many different species of animals; more and more species are dying out and becoming endangered. Something the average person can do to help reduce the decrease in animal populations is to use economically friendly products and recycle. This way, less animals will succumb to a death caused by human waste products.

  • Chey-dec
    3/07/2018 - 12:28 p.m.

    It is called an alligator snapping turtle because of its strong jaws, long neck, and has an appearance of alligator skin.

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