Alligator snapping turtle Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

If you’re a police officer, you never know exactly what your day might bring. You may be faced with an icepick wielding maniac one day and the next day, you’re searching for a lost child.

On May 27, Riverside Police Officer John Cairo had a run-in with a turtle.

It wasn’t just any old turtle, however. It was an alligator snapping turtle — an endangered species in Illinois and the largest turtle species in the state. Alligator snapping turtles, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website, can grow to a shell length of 30 inches and weigh more than 260 pounds. The biggest specimen ever found in Illinois was 160 pounds.

Now, the creature Cairo encountered at about 10:15 on the sidewalk near the Swinging Bridge in Riverside wasn’t one of those huge specimens, but it was big enough that Cairo didn’t want to go picking the thing up.

“Those things can take a finger off,” he said.

The turtle Cairo encountered was about a foot in diameter and probably weight between 20 and 30 pounds. He coaxed the turtle into a recycling bin and hustled it down to the river, where he released it.

Asked how he knew it was an alligator snapping turtle, Cairo said he’s dealt with the species before on two other occasions in Riverside — one down by the Barrypoint Road bridge and one in the 200 block of Scottswood Road.

“I run into them about once a year,” he said.