People have been alerting scientists about its existence for years, but it was not until 2018 that a small turtle living in western Mexico was recognized as a new species. The villagers reported the presence of this reptile about 20 years ago, but the scientists thought it was a juvenile specimen of other species already known in the area. It was not until the last five years that scientists became interested in it. The results of their work were published in June 2018 in the scientific journal Chelonian Conservation and Biology, which specializes in studying turtles.
The Kinosternon vogti (named in honor of the American herpetologist Richard Vogt, who has been working for over 40 years on turtles in the United States, Mexico and Central America) has a yellow spot on the tip of iys nose and is more agile than its peers.
It lives in streams or rivers near the seaside town of Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Jalisco, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. According to the researchers, “this is an endemic species, unique to this site,” says Fabio German Cupul, professor at the University of Guadalajara. Its steps are faster than those of other turtles and it likes to put itself in the shade of a tree to shelter from the sun.
Nicknamed “small helmet of Vallarta” because of the similarity of its shell with a helmet, it does not exceed 10 centimeters in length and fits in the palm of a hand. “It is wider than it is tall, unlike all the other species that exist,” says Cupul.
Only nine specimens could be studied, four of them alive (three males and one female) and five discovered dead. The few specimens found still alive make this turtle a species “at high risk of extinction”, warned Mr. Cupul. A male and a female have since integrated a breeding site in the state of Tabasco, while two other males have joined an enclosure on a crocodile farm in Puerto Vallarta. It belongs to the genus Kinosternon, of which there are 12 other species in Mexico.