May 23, 2023 - Things to Do

"Chonkosaurus" fans can shell-ebrate Turtle Day in Chicago


A common snapping turtle. Photo: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Chicagoans struck with "Chonkosaurus" fever are in for good news.

What's happening: World Turtle Day has arrived, shortly after a video of the large snapping turtle on the Chicago River went viral this month.

State of play: There are 17 species of turtles in Illinois, but only two snapping turtle species. "Chonk" is a common snapping turtle native to northern Illinois.

  • The other type, spiky Alligator snapping turtles, are endangered and rarely seen in the state. They can weigh up to 220 pounds.

The intrigue: The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Forest Preserve of DuPage County are collaborating to protect local turtles and release 1,000 back into the wild.

  • Predators, poaching, viruses and even traffic all threaten the turtle population.

What they're saying: "They're often digging nests along the gravel in the shoulder of roads, because they're looking for a dry spot with a suitable temperature and that is well drained," Nature Museum herpetologist Allison Sacerdote-Velat tells Axios.

  • "Especially now in mid-May and June. This is the time of year where we'll see breeding females cross roads quite a bit."

By the numbers: Experts say snapping turtles get waterlogged from spending most of their time submerged. So while "Chonkosaurus" was reported to be 60 pounds, experts say the actual weight was probably closer to 35 pounds.

Good sign: Spotting "Chonk" near downtown, rather than in a remote part of the river, signals improving health for the waterway, environmentalists say.

  • "The best spot to see them might be along the 'Wild Mile,' where environmentalists have put up the floating wetlands island," says Sacerdote-Velat.

What's next: Today, you can celebrate World Turtle Day at the Nature Museum from 10:30am to 12:30pm, when guests can help with turtle feedings and learn more about our hard-shelled friends.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Chicago stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more