JANESVILLE, Iowa --- A grisly discovery along the Shell Rock River near Janesville Tuesday first appeared to be the remains of a human hand.
But further examination determined the severed hand belonged to a bear, not a person, said Black Hawk County sheriff's deputies.
"It was from a taxidermy dump or a hunt," said Lionel Braun, a sheriff's office investigator.
The appendage had been skinned, giving it a flesh-colored appearance, and the claws removed.
Initially fearing the worst, authorities secured the scene until officials from the state Medical Examiner's Office arrived.
Medical examiner's staff told Braun they come across a number of mistaken bear paws each year.
"It doesn't happen often, but it's not unheard of," said Kevin Baskins, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "We've heard of this confusion before."
Bears aren't common to Iowa but occasionally find their way to the state.
The incident started when teenagers went to the Shell Rock Access on Marquis Road near Janesville for a swim. They spotted the paw at the foot of the boat ramp and called authorities.
Janesville police also thought the apparent hand was suspicious and notified sheriff's deputies, who took a photo and sent it to the Medical Examiner's Office in Ankeny.
Erring on the side of caution and keeping with crime scene protocol, the hand wasn't moved until two anthropologists from the Medical Examiner's Office arrived.
Braun said the rest of the bear hasn't been located.