The Cryptid Zoo: Giant Turtles

Turtles of austounding size are reported from lakes, rivers, swamps and the ocean. These giant turtles range in size from the Beast of Busco in Falk Lake, Indiana, said to be four feet long by many witnesses, to some turtles sighted in the ocean that can be described as house-sized. The largest known turtle is the oceanic leatherback, which supposedly never gets more than 7 feet 10 inches long. Unknown turtles get much larger. Near Newfoundland, sailors have reported seeing a creature truly deserving of the name "giant turtle." This creature was supposed to be 40 feet long, with 20-foot flippers. The most frequently reported shell diameter of giant turtles seems to be about 12 feet long, the same size as a prehistoric turtle that is supposed to be extinct. However, it is hard to imagine a 12-foot turtle living in tiny Lough Bray, in County Wicklow, Ireland, as has been reported. It is much easier to imagine 12-foot or larger turtles living in the ocean.

Many of the "giant turtles" reported from American lakes and rivers seem to be a known species, the alligator snapping turtle, since they are often in or near a size range that is normal for this species. However, some of these alleged alligator snapping turtles would double the accepted size for alligator snapping turtles, if their existence were confirmed. Others would extend the alligator snapping turtle's official range into areas where it is not now supposed to live. Other giant turtles, such as the carvana of Texas legend, are supposed to have grown out of exaggerated reports stemming from fossil finds. The swamp-dwelling carvana, with a shell 12 feet long, is far too large to be an alligator snapping turtle.

A more promising location for actually discovering a new species is Lake Tele. This African lake is supposed to harbor a turtle with a 13-foot shell, called the ndendeki in native folklore.

Some of the oceanic giant turtles are described as having enormously long necks, like a sea serpent threaded through a turtle shell. These creatures are often at first mistaken for sea serpents, until witnesses see the attached giant shell. Some researchers would have this be the explanation for all sea serpent reports: giant turtles with very long necks and submerged shells. One such long-necked turtle is the moha-moha of traditional Australian legend. It is said to look kind of like a long, skinny fish threaded through a turtle's shell. In one report made by a schoolteacher and six other witnesses, the moha-moha had a shell 8 feet in diameter. Its elongated tail was about 12 feet long with a fishy-shaped end, and its neck was somewhat shorter than the tail. The head and neck were light green, with white spots, including a distinctive spot surrounding each dark eye. The shell itself was gray, and the tail end gradually became more gray-white, growing lighter toward the tip. The moha-moha is said to crawl out of the ocean onto beaches, but it is not clear for what purpose. In some of these reports, it is very aggressive, in others, extremely docile.

Extremely fantastic giant turtles occur in some reports. Lake Minnetonka, near Minneapolis, Minnesota, is supposed to be home to the most screwed-up lake monster of all, a creature that resembles a giant turtle more than anything else, but has many ridiculous features. First, imagine a turtle 30 feet long. Then give it a lion's mane. Then, stripe the turtle and its mane in every color of the rainbow. I mean every color! Next, put really long claws on its legs. For that matter, give it more legs, a whole row of giant, clawed turtle legs along each side. However, the pair of legs on the very back end of this monster should be replaced with giant frog legs. Make sure its neck and tail are very long in proportion to the turtle's body, and cover the portions of the neck and tail that aren't already covered by a lion's mane with big, multicolored, warty growths. Lastly, make sure the creature swims as awkwardly as you would expect from such a weird hybrid, but at the same time, make it swim with amazing speed. Now, you've got a lake monster!

Other fantastical giant turtles are the white ones reported off the eastern coast of Canada. These creatures are described as being about 50 feet long. Besides their pure white skin, they have big tusks, four inches in diameter and about three feet long. Unlike the narwhal, they are supposed to have two tusks to each creature.

Obviously, there is more than one kind of cryptid turtle in these reports, and the evidence for each type needs to be evaluated separately from the others. The label of "giant turtle" probably contains at least a dozen varieties of turtle in different parts of the world, some of which might be real, biological animals. Although the really big turtles seem just ridiculous, the fossil record contains some presumably extinct turtles that were bigger than cars, so it is not quite as absurd as it appears at first. Since giant turtles live in the water, they are sometimes lumped in with reports of lake monsters and sea serpents.

You can find out more about Giant Turtles from the following sources:

Blackman, W. Haden. The Field Guide to North American Monsters New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998. Pages 47-48

Campbell, Elizabeth Montgomery and Solomon, David. The Search for Morag. New York: Walker, 1973. Pages 57
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Clark, Jerome and Coleman, Loren. Cryptozoology A-Z. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Pages 32-33, 96-98

Newton, Michael. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005. Page 4, 24, 48, 58, 89, 93, 98, 191, 239-240, 249-250, 252, 271, 278, 302-303, 325, 344, 351, 417-418, 464, 467-468, 474

Randolph, Vance. We Always Lie to Strangers: Tall Tales From the Ozarks. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1974. Pages 69-70, 143-144

Shuker, Karl. The Beasts That Hide From Man: Seeking the World's Last Undiscovered Animals. New York: Paraview Press, 2003. Page 260

Weidensaul, Scott. The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species. New York: North Point Press, 2002. Pages 152, 156-157

Wikipedia, The. Alligator Snapping Turtle

Wikipedia, The. Beast of Busco

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