Real-life Bowser ‘dinosaur turtle’ found in Russian river

3 Jul 2015

The alligator snapping turtle, or ‘dinosaur turtle’, discovered in Russia’s Amur River. Photo by Anastasia Steshina

An alligator snapping turtle that looks like a real-life video-game villain has become somewhat of an internet sensation after turning up in a Russian river.

Anastasia Steshina was among those who discovered the prehistoric-looking turtle in the Amur River, which forms the border between far-east Russia and north-eastern China.

Steshina was rightfully surprised to come across the spiked ‘dinosaur turtle’ – which is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world – seeing as they are typically found in the south-eastern US.

“When we saw it, we did not even realise that it was a turtle. It reminded us of a dinosaur,” she told The Siberian Times.

King of the Koopas

In fact, it’s quite common to compare the appearance of this carnivorous reptile to that of a miniature dinosaur, but it also closely resembles the chief antagonist of one of the world’s most famous video-game characters.

Bowser, King of the Koopas and Mario’s archenemy, with his spiked shell, beak-like jaws and a thick scaled tail, is a ringer for the dinosaur turtle.

Bowser, New Super Mario Bros. 2

A promotional image of Bowser from New Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo). Image via Wikimedia Commons

Granted, in reality, alligator snapping turtles are less glossy and colourful, but they are just as canny. With a tongue that resembles a bright red worm, the alligator snapping turtle uses this as a lure while laying motionless on the river bottom, attracting curious fish or frogs to its hungry beak.

Dinosaur turtle in danger

Steshina had a close look at the turtle’s snapping jaws biting through sticks as well as its big claws helping it move on the ground. In her video, after some poking and prodding, the turtle is returned to the river, but the question remains as to how it got there in the first place.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, the alligator snapping turtle is a vulnerable species, though it has only one natural predator: humans. These animals are captured for their meat and shells, which are sold in the exotic animal trade, says National Geographic.

Dinosaur turtle

The alligator snapping turtle, or ‘dinosaur turtle’. Photo by Anastasia Steshina

It’s possible that the turtle may have found its way into the river from a breeding ground in China or Russia, or it may have had an owner who dumped it in the river when it grew too big (females reach about 23kg while the male of this species can grow to 80-100kg).

Coincidentally, the same week awareness of this turtle started spreading online, the US Fish and Wildlife service declared the need for its protection.

The alligator snapping turtle and nine other amphibian and reptile species require further study to decide whether they merit endangered or threatened classification, which is a further step towards their protection and, consequently, survival.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.