NEWPORT, Ky. -- This week was the end of an era for the Newport Aquarium: One of its most iconic animals -- and certainly the oldest -- died Tuesday.
Thunder, an alligator snapping turtle, had been with the aquarium since it opened in 1999. She was estimated to be 150 years old.
She was rescued from a seafood market in Louisiana in the late 1990s because of her size (she weighed 150 pounds when she died); Thunder went to a Missouri farm before arriving at the Newport Aquarium for its opening. She spent most of her time near Gator Alley and Canyon Falls.
A necropsy, or animal autopsy, has already been performed, but her cause of death won't be known for several weeks, according to the aquarium.
Alligator snapping turtles "are sometimes described as dinosaur-like because of their spiky shells and primitive-looking faces," according to the National Wildlife Federation. They typically live between 11 and 45 years in the wild.
A lawsuit filed Wednesday asks a federal court to make the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decide whether alligator snapping turtles and eight other species should be declared endangered. The turtles' historic range included the Mississippi River watershed, from Georgia and northwestern Florida to eastern Texas, and as far north as southeast Kansas, southeast Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. It was common in all but extreme north and eastern parts of its range. Now, alligator snapping turtles are likely gone from Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, reduced by an estimated 95 percent over much of its range.