Imagine, where else in the animal kingdom could one find a member that exhibits a very bizarre way of breathing using specialized glands in their cloacas—organs that are used for both excretion and mating and which allows it to stay submerged in water for up to 72 hours?
Indeed, the Mary River turtle, as it is called, does not only have a weird way of breathing, but it is also described as having a piercing gold eyes, ‘green hair’ and fleshy barbs on its neck and a tail that can grow to exceptional lengths – that is up to 70 percent longer than the length of its shell.
The gentle turtle’s scientific name is Elusor macrurus and the ‘hairs’ on its head are vertical strands of algae, which makes it look like a swimming patch of grass, the result of staying submerged in water for long hours.
Measuring up to 40cm, the turtle is said to take a long time to mature sexually, rarely mating before the age of 25.
They prefer to dwell in well-oxygenated, flowing sections of streams, known as riffles, though they are sometimes found in deeper pools.
It is because of its gentle/docile nature that the Mary River turtle was kept as a pet in Australia in the 1960s and 70s.
During that period, it was estimated that around 15,000 Mary River turtle eggs were sold to pet shops every year, and the unchecked raiding of the animal’s nests played a large part in driving the turtle towards extinction.
According to the Australian Zoo, Mary River turtles are also threatened by habitat degradation, which includes “problems such as a deterioration of water quality through riverside vegetation being cleared, water pollution through siltation, agricultural chemical contamination and water flow disruptions through the construction of weirs for irrigation and predation.”
As its name suggest, the Mary River turtle lives only in the flowing streams of the Mary River in Queensland, Australia.
Unfortunately the turtle is also at number 29 on the new official list of the most endangered reptiles in the world.