A mother and daughter had hoped to catch some freshwater fish when they sailed in a tandem kayak on the Mississippi River. But instead, they came face to face with a massive snapping turtle with a dinosaur-like head. The next day, they saw it again, and Shala Holm snapped a photo of the creature as it reached for their basket of fish. The image went viral online and scared people away from swimming in those waters.
Discovering a Massive Turtle in the Mississippi River
Holm and her family take an annual vacation at Niemeyer’s Rugged River Resort every July, and they haven’t seen the massive turtle until this year while fishing. “My daughter all of a sudden said, ‘Mom, be quiet. I can hear something breathing,’” Holm said. 
So Holm looked toward the shore, searching for a beaver or deer, when a nose poked out of the water. The turtle swam next to the fish net dangling on the side of the kayak. “He kind of clawed onto it,” she said. “He was so big, and we were so startled.” She lifted the basket up, which was difficult because of the turtle’s weight, but managed to shake it off and paddle away. 
But the pair returned the next day, hoping to find it again. And this time, Holm captured the now-viral photos. “When you’re in a kayak, the beauty of it is you’re really close to the water,” Holm said. “So we were really quite close.” Although she couldn’t say the exact species and size of the massive turtle, she believes it was a snapping turtle — the largest turtle species in Minnesota. “His hand was as big as my hand,” Holm explained. “And then add the claws on there.”
Holm sent the picture to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), they estimated the turtle was at least 15 years old, although it could also be as old as 30. The DNR states that adult snapping turtles typically range from 8 to 14 inches long and weigh 10 to 35 pounds. However, the largest one on record in Minnesota weighs 65 pounds.
“You don’t see them very often because they spend the majority of their lives underwater,” said Non-Game Wildlife Specialist Lori Naumann of the Minnesota DNR. “They usually are eating their food underwater, so you’re just not going to see them very often.” 
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“Look at this turtle!”
Holm also shared the image with Sheila Niemeyer, who owns the Rugged River Resort with her husband, Corby. While clearing old emails earlier this month, Niemeyer found the photo again and posted it on the resort’s Facebook page.
The photo got shared over 5 thousand times and garnered over a thousand comments, including one from Holm, who provided another photo of the massive turtle, this time with its head poking out of the water.
However, turtles are common near the resort, which is on a quiet stretch of the Mississippi north of Brainerd, with many pockets of land and water filled with wildlife. “Every June, we get a lot of turtles coming up on shore and they’re laying their eggs,” she said. “It’s one of our things we love is watching the turtles. So this was pretty crazy to see a big one like that.”
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To Swim or Not to Swim
Although reptiles like this are common there, the photo dissuaded some commenters who didn’t want to get anywhere close to the creature. “Remind me to never swim in the river,” one wrote. But snapping turtles, despite their scary appearance, prefer to stay away from people. They have a bad reputation for acting defensively when they feel threatened, but they are far from dangerous. They are even more docile in the water, but on land, they are more vulnerable and therefore, more defensive although they don’t attack. Like many humans, they would rather hide or flee to avoid confrontation.
Although some commenters were deterred by the massive turtle, more seemed interested in the creature and his location. Most of all was Holm herself. “I’m going to go back to that spot next year and see if he or she is still around,” she said. One person commented that the “poor guy” was confused why they were stealing his food, and recommended they bring some to feed him. Holm responded, “Good idea if we see him next year maybe we’ll be more calm. You are really close to the water in a kayak!” adding that next time they’ll come prepared.
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- “Oh snap! Massive turtle surfaces in Brainerd, sets social networks atwitter.” MPR News. Kirsti Marohn. November 9, 2022
- “Kayakers Come Face to Face With Giant Snapping Turtle: ‘So Scared’.” Newsweek. Alice Gibbs. November 10, 2022
- “Twin Cities mom snaps pics of massive snapping turtle…before it could snap her.” CBS. November 10, 2022