More on the Risk of Death by Turtle

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Yesterday we learned that the new set of medical-insurance codes will include nine for turtle-related injuries, including three for the mysterious category "struck by turtle." Since turtles generally don't get up enough speed on their own to crash into people, this presumably means turtles are somehow becoming airborne, and I was surprised to learn that flying-turtle injuries are common enough that they get their own code.

So far, though, I have been able to find very few examples of this kind of incident. With one famous exception, they all reportedly happened in China, and details are pretty sketchy.

The Associated Press reported in 1987 that a Hong Kong man was hit in the head by a turtle that had fallen out of a high-rise apartment building. The two-pound reptilian missile "struck 36-year-old Lui Wai-kwong on the head, bruising Lui's temple and badly injuring the turtle," according to the report.

Turtles struck again in Hong Kong in 2004, when the BBC reported that a taxi had been hit by a turtle that somehow managed to climb out of an open window and then fell 10 floors onto the taxi's roof. No one was injured in that incident, though, with the possible exception of the turtle, which survived, though with a cracked shell.

(photo: Eric Cheng)

A turtle or tortoise managed another head strike in 2009, according to a number of reports again originating from China. (See, e.g., "Girl hit by plummeting tortoise loses memory.") According to this story, a 12-year-old Chinese girl was hit by a "falling black object" that turned out to be a three-pound pregnant tortoise. Police believed that the animal had been thrown out of an apartment building, but had no suspects. A picture accompanying this article shows a young girl with a pretty nasty wound on the top of her head, but there's no way to confirm what caused it. This time, the animal did not survive.

Turtles live pretty long lives, and so I think we have to entertain the possibility that the same turtle was responsible for all three of these incidents. If so, its reign of terror has now ended, which would make further "struck by turtle" injuries even more unlikely. 

The more famous but equally unverifiable turtle impact happened in 456 B.C., when the Greek playwright Aeschylus (author of The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, and Euripides Is a Big Fat Idiot) is said to have been killed by a turtle. The story is that the turtle was dropped on him by an eagle, which presumably was hoping to crack the turtle's shell open on a rock but mistakenly hit the playwright's bald head. Golden eagles have been known to hunt this way (for turtles, not for playwrights), but it seems unlikely that there is any truth to this particular story.  According to this source, the turtle-killing-a-bald-guy story dates back to at least the fifth century B.C. but is not associated with Aeschylus himself until much later.

I realize they just got done overhauling these codes, but still I think we should expand this category a little to distinguish between "Struck by turtle falling from Chinese high-rise" and "Struck by turtle released by divebombing bird of prey." So far as I can tell, anyway, that ought to cover it.