Punk-looking Australian turtle ranked among threatened reptiles

The Mary River turtle in Australia, sometimes with a punk-like algae crest, has joined the list of threatened reptiles of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which also includes many lizards and snakes.

This turtle, whose scientific name is Elusor macrurus, lives in the Australian state of Queensland and especially in the waters of the Mary River. It is “very particular”, says in a statement the ZSL, which this week added 100 new species of reptiles to its EDGE list, created in 2007.

The turtle of the Mary River has genitals, cloaches, which serve not only to urinate or lay eggs, but also to breathe under the water through the skin.

“This turtle is able to stay under water for up to three days — without coming back to the surface, thanks to this strange ability to breathe through its hindquarters,” said Rikki Gumbs of the Imperial College London, who participated on the EDGE list.

Another peculiarity of the species: some individuals are endowed with a fluorescent green crest, in fact seaweeds.

“The Mary River turtle spends so much time submerged underwater that some individuals find themselves covered with seaweed and can end up with quite impressive cuts!” said Rikki Gumbs.

Recognized as a species apart only in 1994, this turtle suffered from its popularity as a pet in the 1970s and 80s. It also saw its natural habitat destroyed by the construction of dams. Its eggs are collected for the animal trade, while its sexual maturity is late, sometimes not before 25 years.

“Reptiles are often the last wheel of the coach in terms of preservation,” said Rikki Gumbs. “Like tigers, rhinos and elephants, it is vital to do everything possible to save these unique and often neglected animals,” he said.

Emy Torres

Emy holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan and currently freelances part-time for The Talking Democrat.