This is the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, one of the most endangered species on Earth. There are two at China's Suzhou Zoo and one in the wild in Vietnam's lake Dong Mo. Conservationists really need to find a fourth to aid their efforts to rebuild the species. National Geographic spoke with Aimin Wang
, director of the China division of the Wildlife Conservation Society, about the group's efforts to find another elusive Yangtze turtle:
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What would it mean for the species if one were to be found?
It increases our opportunity [for successful breeding] quite a bit. The male in China is quite old, but the female is young. The turtles are bred using artificial insemination. The last four attempts with the breeding pair in China were unsuccessful. We just tried for a fifth time and got high-quality sperm. We won't know for another month if our results were successful.
Why are these turtles so important to save?
This is a flagship species, and for biodiversity, they're quite important. They serve as an important [indicator of environmental health]. If we can help them survive, that means our ecological system is quite good. If they disappear, that means our ecological system is quite bad.
Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology attached small robots to the back of turtles and enabled the machine to steer the animal by delivering it snacks. Eventually, they hope to use similar systems to control fish and birds. The technology could lead to parasitic robot/animal "teams" for surveillance, exploration, and disaster response. From New Scientist:
The robots comprised a processor, a frame that stuck out in front of the turtle’s head holding five red LEDs spaced apart, and a food-ejecting tube. They then had to ride their turtle through five checkpoints in a tank filled with water...
The turtles were first conditioned to associate a lit-up LED with food. The robot then simply guided it using the LEDs and fed it snacks as a reward for going in the right direction. Using this process, five robot-turtle pairs successfully completed the course, and each sped up with practice.
"Parasitic Robot System for Waypoint Navigation of Turtle" (Journal of Bionic Engineering)
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Who would win in a fight between a turtle-sized turtle and a dozen cow-sized-cows? [via r/funny.] Read the rest
It's not entirely clear where this image originates from, but the nightmarish interior of the Leatherback Turtle's mouth is attested to by many other ones just like it. Hey, at least it doesn't pee through its mouth.
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Kai Xu was arrested attempting to cross into Canada from Detroit, Michigan with 51 live turtles down his pants, mostly strapped to his legs. He was apparently smuggling the turtles he had bought to resell outside the US at much higher prices. From the Associated Press:
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The investigation had started after a courier company in Detroit tipped the wildlife service to a package that had been shipped from Alabama addressed to Xu.
According to the court documents, agents watched as Xu allegedly opened various boxes in the rear of his SUV, took out several round clear plastic containers, and placed their contents into plastic baggies. He also had packaging tape and scissors.
“Special Agent (James) Fuller noticed irregularly shaped bulges under Xu’s sweatpants on both his legs,” the document states.
A 72-year-old Marine veteran who volunteered to protect a sea turtle nest got beaten and shot in the butt for his troubles. Turtle-hater Michael Q. McAuliffe was arrested. Read the rest
This fantastic video from the World Wildlife Fund in Australia is a turtle’s eye view of the The Great Barrier Reef. The sensitive ecological zone is home to almost 6,000 species.
To find out more about the level of pollution affecting turtles within the Great Barrier Reef, WWF is working on innovative project in Queensland with the support of our partners Banrock Station Wines Environmental Trust, James Cook University, The University of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, State and Commonwealth government agencies, Indigenous rangers and local community groups.
As part of that project, the opportunity arose to very carefully fit a small GoPro camera to a turtle, to better understand the post-release behaviour of tagged green turtles. The result is this amazing video.
This week, the World Heritage Committee will vote whether to keep a strong watch over Australia until the health of the Great Barrier Reef. The decision is critical to the future protection of the Reef.
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Alexis Madrigal writes: "The Soviet Zond 5 sent the animals around the moon -- although not into lunar orbit -- during a mission in the middle of September, 1968
. The unmanned craft then returned to Earth and splashed down in the Indian Ocean, after which the Russians recovered the craft." The turtles were fine. Read the rest
Teenagers, beware! Here is another very good reason to never, ever have sex. Like these 50-million-year-old turtles, you could get so caught up in the act, that you don't notice you are sinking into a bog full of toxic volcanic gasses. It's a real risk! This happened to more than one pair of filthy, sex-having turtles. And condoms will not save you.
The researchers analyzed nine pairs of the turtles. Each pair was apparently made up of a male and a female — the females are slightly larger than males, have shorter tails and apparently had a hinged lower shell that may have helped them lay large eggs.
In addition, the turtles in each pair always had their rear ends oriented toward one another. Finally, in two of the pairs, "the tails of the partners are aligned with each other," Joyce said. "This is the very position in which the tails are held when living turtles mate. This observation is the true smoking gun.
"No other vertebrates have ever been found like these, so these are truly exceptional fossils," Joyce said.
Read the rest of Charles Q. Choi's story at MSNBC
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A turtle of the same species as Sir Thomas. Photo: Brocken Inaglory (cc)
A Cayman Island turtle farm is to release a 60-year-old turtle, Sir Thomas Turtleton, in honor of Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne. Sir Thomas weighs 600 lbs and has enjoyed a 30-year career as a stud turtle. From the press release:
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As part of the Tag and Track programme, Green Sea Turtles fitted with satellite transmitters are released into the ocean and monitored online. When the animal surfaces during a transmission period, the tag sends a signal to a satellite, indicating its location.
As Sir Thomas Turtleton travels following his release, the team at the Cayman Turtle Farm will be able to use the data as signs that he has successfully survived the re-introduction to the wild, and scientists, both at the Farm and in like-minded organisations around the world, can view and assess the turtle's migration path.