The sky is falling…
August 13, 2007 3:20 PM   Subscribe

(Two part question: part 1 – help me find a reference, part 2 – am I crazy?) I know I have read somewhere that on rare occasions fish and frogs can be dragged from their watery residences by waterspouts and deposited miles away. There are many references on the web referring to this type of phenomena, but there is a particularly extreme example which I seek…

The reference that I recall includes the story of a jet that lost an engine due to inhaling a small animal and loosing the engine. When the residue was gathered from the engine in question, the animal which the plane hit at altitude was confirmed to be a small non-flying mammal (squirrel?). Has anyone ever heard of this particularly extreme case of flightless animals at high altitude?

The reason for my sudden interest in this topic is due to a rather strange guest in my yard over the most recent weekend. Sunday morning, after an unusually heavy summer storm (the patio furniture was knocked over for the first time in years) I awoke to let the dogs out, and when I went to let them in and one had a rather large turtle in her mouth (dead).

This was unusual for a number of reasons…

The turtle did not appear to be a terrestrial turtle, such as those commonly kept as pets (Mud or Box). I have had pet turtles as a child and would recognize a familiar species.

The turtle was large enough (7”-8” L, 5”W) that it would have been impossible for it to gain entry through my cedar privacy fence without going over or under it. Which I’m sure a turtle cannot do on its own power. The turtle was also of a size that I have never seen from an aquatic pet turtle. Only in the wild have I seen a turtle of this size.

The turtle shell was partially broken/cracked near one edge, which may have been the dog’s doing, but she is almost never rough with things that are already dead and I doubt that she would try to tear through something so hard. This suggests that there was some forceful impact involved with the turtle entering my yard.

Access to my yard is very limited; from the street side, there is no way someone could have thrown the turtle into the dog area of the property, plain and simple. The fence in the rear is surrounded by neighboring properties, consisting of mostly elderly folks and one young couple, so it is highly unlikely that that a neighbor chucked it over.

I do not live very close to water, or at least far enough that a turtle could have strolled over. There is a small branch of the Chicago river about a mile away, the North Branch of the Chicago river is about three miles away and the Des Plaines river is about three miles in another direction. There are several small lakes and man made bodies of water within a few miles, but none are within a mile and all have obstacles such as train tracks, major streets and bridges that would need to be overcome. I would be hard-pressed to walk directly to a nearby body of water without getting killed and I look both ways.

Am I crazy or did this turtle fall form the sky?

Does this happen with any frequency?

Opinions, thoughts and any personal experiences are appreciated.
posted by kmadd to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't forget that birds of prey can pick up tasty looking creatures only to accidentally drop them somewhere else. In the case of a turtle, the bird may have been trying to smash it open.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:25 PM on August 13, 2007

it would have been impossible for it to gain entry through my cedar privacy fence without going over or under it. Which I’m sure a turtle cannot do on its own power.

Don't be so sure. Some species of turtles can dig pretty darn well. This link talks about the Eastern painted turtle that digs out a nest every year, and this site warns pet owners that their box turtles will dig their way out given the opportunity.

Also, a mile isn't an inconceivably far distance for a turtle at all. As slow as they seem, it's only a day or two of travel.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:52 PM on August 13, 2007

Seconding the possibility of a large bird of prey. I'm not sure if your area has Bald Eagles (your area sounds pretty urban), but a swimming turtle is probably not out of the range for possible prey, although it's not the eagles typical diet. I have personally seen a Golden Eagle (a comparable sized bird of prey) pick up a young deer and carry it across a canyon before it dropped it, so a Bald Eagle, even a juvenile, wouldnt have much of a problem with a 7" turtle.

I'm not enough of a naturalist to know if your area has many other mid-to-large sized raptors that feed on marine or lacustrine prey, but its definately a possibility.
posted by elendil71 at 4:00 PM on August 13, 2007

Has anyone ever heard of this particularly extreme case of flightless animals at high altitude?

I can't find it on snopes right now, but the whole scuba-diver picked up by a fireplane thing is an urban legend.
posted by rhizome at 4:08 PM on August 13, 2007

Regarding part 2: a large, out-of-place turtle could very well be someone's pet. When I was a kid, a gopher tortoise the size of a melon turned up in our backyard calmly cropping the lawn. All well and good, except that our backyard was several thousand miles from the natural habitat of gopher tortoises and our yard, like yours, was completely fenced in + had concrete sunk below the fence to help keep our digging dog in. Flyers posted around the neighborhood soon turned up its owner. (Concurrent inquires also turned up that the tortoise was an endangered species; thus its next home was the local zoo).

Also related: a friend of mine has a large plastic kiddie swimming pool in his yard where he gives former-pet turtles a home. The largest of his turtles has grown big enough to cover a dinner plate; members of his herd often escape his turtle compound and are discovered several backyards away furtively covering egg-filled holes.
posted by jamaro at 4:10 PM on August 13, 2007


Just kidding. Does 6 inches mean just the shell, or is it with tail/head?

can you do a google image search for some north american freshwater turtles, and find one that looks similar.

this is very interesting to me. I've always been fascinated by stories like this
posted by ArgentCorvid at 4:14 PM on August 13, 2007

Birds are always dropping things in my yard, seeds and dead rats and the like. My money's on an eagle or owl or other large bird of prey.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:55 PM on August 13, 2007

I work in the centre of Downtown Vancouver. Despite the relative proximity of the skyscrapers to the ocean, it was quite a shock last week to find a starfish just outside my building. We knew immediately that a bird had dropped it, but still-- freaking bizarre to see. It was like Weekend showed up at Work's doorstop.
posted by mireille at 4:55 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Am I crazy or did this turtle fall form the sky? Does this happen with any frequency?

"On May 11, 1887, a most unexpected object fell from the sky during a severe hail storm near Bovina [Mississippi]. The unusual object proved to be a 6-inch by 8-inch gopher turtle completely encased in ice."
posted by occhiblu at 8:59 AM on August 14, 2007

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