100-year-old giant alligator snapping turtle disappears on North Carolina highway to reptile expo

Alligator snapping turtles have a hard, armor-like shell and a sharp beak.

March 13, 2024, 3:16 PM

A 100-year-old giant alligator snapping turtle is at large after mysteriously disappearing somewhere along Interstate 40 in Durham, North Carolina.

The turtle, named "Thanos" by his owner Dan Hemby, vanished from Hemby's vehicle Sunday en route from Jacksonville, North Carolina, to the Durham Reptile Expo, Hemby told ABC affiliate WTVD.

"We weren't even maybe 30 minutes away from the convention center, and we get there ... first thing I see is all three straps were popped open and moved to the side, and the grates were moved over," Hemby said.

"It's almost like losing a piece of myself, to be honest with you," Hemby added.

Alligator snapping turtles have a hard, armor-like shell, a sharp beak and a bite fierce enough to sever human bone. At 100 years old, Thanos is a mature turtle, weighing 140-180 pounds and spanning 38 inches, according to WTVD.

Thanos' puzzling disappearance has led Hemby to hypothesize he must have been stolen, alleging the theft may have happened at a rest stop outside of Benson, North Carolina, which was the last time Hemby saw him.

PHOTO: In a video posted to his TikTok account, Dan is seen holding his snapping turtle Galactus.
In a video posted to his TikTok account, Dan is seen holding his snapping turtle Galactus.

"He couldn't bite his way out. I don't think he could strong arm his way out, honestly, especially not with the three ratchet straps that were on there," Hemby told the outlet. "I think somebody messed with him, I honestly don't know what to think."

Hemby said he retraced his route on the Interstate to check for possible signs Thanos had escaped his enclosure, such as blood marks, but didn't find anything.

"If he did fall, he probably got scraped up," Hemby said. "He probably survived long as he was on this front. But if he got on his back, I don't know if he would be able to get back on after that much impact. His first thing he would do is probably go for water."

State wildlife officials told WTVD there is a chance Thanos could be alive if he survived the possible fall and was able to access a river, noting that snapping alligator turtles are a largely aquatic species.

Hemby shared a warning for anyone who may encounter Thanos and pleaded for his safety if Thanos was stolen.

"If you see him, please let us know. Be careful. Do not handle him," Hemby said. "He couldn't go out as far as regular turtles, or regular common snappers. If somebody stole them, please just get him home or just make sure he's safe."

Thanos' mysterious disappearance follows another strange alligator snapping turtle encounter in the United Kingdom.

In February, Dr. Dominic Moule, a veterinary surgeon at Wild Side Vets in Cumbria, England, told ABC News that such a turtle, named Fluffy by Moule and his colleagues, was discovered in Urswick Tarn, a pond in England, and delivered to his clinic.

The "dinosaur-like" reptiles are native to rivers and swamps in Florida and do not migrate, according to Moule, who suspects the turtle was an exotic pet owned by someone in the area, who dumped it in the local pond.

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