A member of the largest freshwater turtle species in the world with the power to bite through bone has been discovered in the United Kingdom – thousands of miles from its native home in the United States.
The reptile, an alligator snapping turtle, was found by a dog walker in a lake in Cumbria, England, last week and immediately taken to a local veterinarian’s office, CBS News partner BBC reported. Denise Chamberlain, who managed to capture it from the lake using a shopping basket, told the BBC that she was anxious to get ahold of the creature, and wore three pairs of builder’s gloves to prevent an injury.
Alligator snapping turtles are invasive to England, as the “dinosaur-like” creatures are exclusively found in the U.S. from northern Florida to Iowa, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The massive turtles can grow to be 175 pounds and are known for their spiky shells and, according to the federation, having “a bite force of 1,000 pounds.”
“Their powerful jaws can snap through bone,” the organization says on its website, “so they should never be handled in the wild.”
Local veterinary surgeon Dr. Dominic Moule told the BBC the turtle was an “extremely surprising” find.
“At this size, it could give you a nasty bite. But when they get bigger…they can cause some damage,” Moule said. “…I’m sure if it was left there [in the lake] it would be invasive and eat everything in the water.”
Despite his aggressively rough exterior and potential to wreak havoc, Wild Side Vets, the animal clinic that took in the turtle, said he’s been named “Fluffy.”
“Our colleagues thought they looked rather hideous, but as we have a fondness for the weird and the wonderful, we both think they look cute,” Moule told CBS News, adding that he and his colleague Rachael Mork decided upon the name. “…It also alleviates that strange and scary aspect of a creature that looks so prehistoric.”
Moule said his team spoke to experts who believe Fluffy may be between 4 and 5 years old.
“They are about the size of a dinner plate, or just bigger than my hand,” Moule said.
Wild Side Vets wrote on Facebook that the team believes Fluffy was abandoned.
“Reptiles are very expensive and difficult to keep,” the team said. “… Please don’t abandon or keep any reptile in suboptimal conditions.”
On Monday, the BBC reported that Fluffy is being sent to a specialist reptile center after Dr. Kate Hornby told the outlet that the reptile had not eaten since arriving at the vet office. That lack of consumption may have been because Fluffy is “in a state of hibernation due to the colder U.K. climate,” Hornby said, adding that the turtle was “quite muddy” when he was brought in and could have been in the lake “for some time.”
Once with its new caretakers, Horbny said Fluffy will be placed in warmer waters to help its metabolism increase. CBS News has reached out to Wild Side Vets for further information.
According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, alligator snapping turtles have “tremendously long” tails and are considered a protected species in the state after they were heavily harvested in the 1960s and ’70s. The department says “it could take decades” for the species to recover from that period. The animals spend a significant amount of time in water, according to the NWF, and can hold their breath for nearly an hour.
Even though Fluffy is moving on from Wild Side Vets, his short stint there proved to be inspirational. The clinic posted a poem written by a friend of an office member, calling the facility a place “where wildside vets with spirits untamed, embrace each challenge, never feeling restrained.”
“A snapping turtle, a creature of lore, brought tales aplenty, to the clinic’s door. With jaws like a vice, and eyes that gleam, it captured attention, a creature of dream,” the poem reads. “…Never a dull moment, at the vet’s embrace, as they welcome the weird, with a smile on their face.”