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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Catherine Odom

Return of Chonkosaurus: notorious turtle spotted on Chicago River

Chonkosaurus was spotted again Wednesday afternoon near the Division Street bridge, on the east side of Goose Island. (Charlie Portis photo)

Chonkosaurus is back — without much of a vengeance.

Charlie Portis and his 14-year-old son Bokai spotted the Chicago River’s celebrity snapping turtle, dubbed Chonkosaurus, soaking up the sun on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s Chonkosaurus part four — this time, it’s personal,” Portis quipped in a deep voice, while recording a video of the monster turtle.

The snapping turtle, which the Field Museum’s curator of reptiles and amphibians Sara Ruane estimated weighs about 35 pounds, went viral after kayakers spotted it sunbathing on a rusty metal chain in the Chicago River last month.

Portis, who owns the kayak rental and tour company Wateriders, said he and Bokai were towing kayaks on Wednesday around 4 p.m., when they decided to stop by the internet-famous turtle’s stomping grounds near Goose Island.

Field Museum reptile expert Sara Ruane compared the original sighting of Chonkosaurus with Charlie Portis’ sighting in this graphic. She confirmed the Portises had seen the viral Chonkosaurus. (Field Museum/Sara Ruane)

At first, Portis said he told his son he doubted they’d see the turtle, since it spends much of its time underwater. But as they approached a hefty mass basking in the sun near the Division Street bridge, the father-son duo realized they might be in luck.

Even with the noise from his boat’s motor, Portis said the turtle remained unperturbed on its perch.

In a video he shared with the Sun-Times, Portis can be heard saying, “Bokai, is that a large turtle ... or what?”

Ruane confirmed the Portises had seen Chonkosaurus by comparing their photos and videos with those from the original sighting.

Last month, Wateriders took a team of Sun-Times journalists out to search for the famed snapping turtle, but to no avail. Portis said striking out back in May made it all the more exciting to see the turtle on Wednesday.

Ruane said although Chonkosaurus is certainly a big snapping turtle, it is not outside the range of normal for its species. She added that the turtle growing to that size is a “positive indicator” of the health of both the turtle and the Chicago River.

Based on the photos and videos of this turtle, Ruane said it would be difficult to determine whether the turtle is male or female. But she said female turtles, especially those carrying eggs, typically bask in the sun more often than their male counterparts do.

This photo provided by Joey Santore shows a snapping turtle relaxing along the Chicago River. Footage of the plump turtle went viral after Santore marveled at its size and nicknamed it “Chonkosaurus.” (Joey Santore/Distributed by the Associated Press)

Basking at all is somewhat unusual, Ruane said. Snapping turtles spend most of their time in the water.

In Portis’ videos, the turtle appears to be catching some rays on the same metal chain seen in the original Chonkosaurus footage. That didn’t surprise Ruane, who said snapping turtles, like many other animals, are creatures of habit.

“If something works for them, they’ll continue to do it,” she said.

Ruane reminded Chonkosaurus fans to avoid touching, grabbing or poking the turtle if they spot it. Still, even though snapping turtles have powerful jaws, you probably won’t need a bigger boat if you run into Chonkosaurus on the river.

If a turtle in its natural environment feels threatened, Ruane said, it will likely just slide back into the water, posing no danger to passing kayakers.

She added that Chonk spotters should make sure they don’t drop their phones or fall out of their boats trying to get closer to the turtle.

The presence of a turtle like Chonkosaurus in the Chicago River shows how resilient animals can be, even right next to a noisy bridge, Ruane said.

It’s an example of “wildlife doing OK in an urban environment,” said Ruane.

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