Two men and a teenage boy from Pennsylvania face charges after police say they blew up a live turtle by strapping M-80 firecrackers to its shell.

Deputies from Northern Lancaster County responded to reports of an explosion in Penn Township on the evening of 3 August.

Police say they discovered a small crater and what appeared to be pieces of bone fragments, "biological membrane" and the remains of a large turtle.

Witnesses provided a description of the suspects' truck after they fled the scene, and officers soon identified three individuals alleged to have fixed two M-80 firecrackers on the shell of the turtle and lit the fuses.

A statement from Northern Lancaster County Regional Police said the explosion caused "severe trauma to the turtle ... killing the reptile".

Two 21-year-olds from the nearby town of Manheim – Taylor James Geib and Austin Mathew Garner – were arrested on Wednesday (24 August), along with a 17-year-old boy, who has not been named due to being a juvenile.

The suspects were charged with criminal conspiracy and possession of prohibited offensive weapons, namely the M-80 firecrackers which are illegal to sell in Pennsylvania. No date has yet been set for a preliminary hearing.

According to Pennsylvania law, animal cruelty only covers zoo animals or domesticated animals, like cats and dogs.

Jesse Rothacker, owner of the Pennsylvania-based Forgotten Friends Reptile Sanctuary, said she couldn't understand why someone would want to harm a "harmless" turtle, and called on people to sign a petition supporting a change law.

"Since the turtle was a wild animal, and not a domestic or zoo animal, it does not fall under the protection of animal cruelty laws," the petition said. "If this had been a dog, there would be no hesitation on charges that fit the crime, so what makes this any different simply because it is a turtle?"