HOUSTON – The monster turtle opened its bone-crushing jaws, revealing the insides of its purple-and-pink mouth, a warning as if to say, “don’t mess with me, man.”

Harvey is his name—unofficially, at least—and he’s an 89-pound western alligator snapping turtle.

He was found wandering along Memorial Drive near Waugh early Tuesday morning. Some commuters mistook him for storm debris; others drove by, too busy to stop on their way to who knows where. Finally, someone alerted the Houston SPCA and Harvey was taken to the SPCA’s wildlife center for an evaluation.

He was a bit dehydrated, doctors said, but overall in good health—say for a couple minor scrapes and worn-down toenails, fairly common for a turtle of Harvey’s age. Eric Munscher estimates Harvey is somewhere in his 70s.

Munscher, the field director for the Turtle Survival Alliance North American Fresh Water Turtle Group, said wild alligator snapping turtles can live into their 100s.

Photos: That's a big turtle!

Munscher and the Turtle Survival Alliance first met Harvey in February during their research for a 10-year study that monitors alligator snapping turtles in Buffalo Bayou. Munscher said the study will also focus on genetics, growth analysis and nesting.

“We’re interested in where are the females of this particular species nesting,” Munscher said.

Since the study began in October, Munscher and Jordan Gray, the communications director for Turtle Survival Alliance, have marked 32 alligator snapping turtles.

The turtles are native to East Texas but have found their way into Houston and Harris County. Houston has the largest urban population of alligator snapping turtles, said Kelly Norrid with Texas Parks & Wildlife.

They’re also on the state’s threatened species list. Strict state laws prevent people from owning, poaching or even touching the turtles, Norrid said. He urges anyone who finds one of the turtles to not touch it and report it to Texas Parks & Wildlife.

After Harvey was evaluated at the SPCA and deemed him fit to return to the wild, he was loaded into a big tub—large enough to hold a turtle of his size—and driven back to Buffalo Bayou.

Once there, Gray grabbed the monster turtle and placed him on a slope that fed back into the swollen bayou. Harvey took a few steps and slid through the dirt and mud, back into the murky water that he calls home.

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