Alligator snapping turtles will eat just about anything, according to scientists: birds, mollusks, armadillos, opossums, fish and other turtles.
Oh, and apparently human fingers, too.
That’s what a Bush, Louisiana, area man discovered Monday as he was preparing a large alligator snapping turtle for consumption, according to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office. As the man cleaned and processed the reptile, he discovered a human finger inside.
After the man called authorities, the sheriff’s office had the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office pick up the finger “in an attempt to identify its owner.” Authorities didn’t say which digit it was, but did note that the coroner’s office and the sheriff’s office crime lab tried — unsuccessfully — to get a fingerprint from it.
“We really don't know what we have,” Captain Scott Lee, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “It could be a careless fisherman ... We're not ruling anything out.”
Deputies also reached out to local hospitals to see if they could help solve the missing finger mystery. But no luck there, either.
The turtle came from a river in Western St. Tammany Parish, deputies said. A trout line had been used to catch the reptile.
Now deputies and officials from the coroner’s officer are canvassing the watershed where the turtle was found for clues, the sheriff’s office said. They’re getting help from a local human remains detection dog named Maggie, as well as Louisiana Search and Rescue dogs.
Anyone with tips in the case (or anyone who suspects it may be their finger) is encouraged to call the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office at (985) 898-2338.
Alligator snapping turtles are the biggest species of turtle found in freshwater, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The turtles look like miniature dinosaurs, with beady eyes on either side of their heads, ghastly hooked beaks and shells dotted with prehistoric-looking spikes. Male turtles can weigh as much as 175 pounds.
The turtles call the southern U.S. home — particularly waterways that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Smithsonian. That said, the prehistoric-looking reptiles can be found as far afield as Iowa and Georgia.
Alligator snapping turtles are sometimes considered less dangerous than other kinds of snapping turtles, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources says. But beware: The turtles still pack a ferocious bite, which can seriously harm people in their path — as one human may have learned firsthand.