mary river turtle, Elusor macrurus (5)

photo: National Aquarium

Habitat: Mary River in South-East Queensland, Australia
Status: Endangered

In 1994, scientists first identified the Mary River Turtle (Elusor macrurus) as a new genus and species of freshwater turtle. However, it was promptly put on the endangered species list and still remains there to this day. In fact, it’s listed as one of the world’s top 25 most endangered turtle species. It’s now only found in a single river in Australia, the Mary River.

The Mary River Turtle is endangered due to years of pillaging nest sites in the 1960’s and 70’s, when these turtles were big in the pet trade in Australia. Over 15,000 hatchlings were sent to shops every year during a ten year period. It might have been popular for its unique appearance and docile nature.

Elusor is a monotypic genus representing a very old lineage of turtles that has all but disappeared from the evolutionary history of Australia (via wikipedia). This means that the turtle has a number of characteristics that are no longer found in modern day turtles. For one, it has a very long and thick tail (hah…ha.) that can be up to 70% the length of its shell.

This turtle seriously got back. That’s not the only unusual feature on the Mary River Turtle, though. It also has exceptionally long barbels (those little protrusions you see on its chin in the photo below) under its mandible that it uses to feel around in the soft sand of the riverbed.

Last but not least in the list of strange features, is the fact that this guy, in addition to breathing normally at the water’s surface, can breathe oxygen underwater through gill-like structures near its butt. There’s a whole lot going on on this creature’s backside.

Apparently these interesting traits weren’t enough to capture the Australian public’s attention when the construction of a dam threatened this already extremely endangered creature. It wasn’t until photographer Chris Van Wyk captured these incredible photos of a Mary River Turtle sporting an algae punk-rock hairstyle that the conservation movement opposing the dam had a mascot for their campaign. After public outcry and successful lobbying from the conservation movement, the Traveston Crossing Dam was scrapped in November of 2009 after the senate voted against it’s completion.
Hopefully there will be more success for this turtle in the coming years as a face like this should never be lost to extinction:

thanks to Treehugger and this ABC news story for the info!