Turtle that breathes through its genitals is now endangered

Behold the Mary River Turtle (previously!), which has, alas, recently joined the endangered-species list maintained by the Zoological Society of London.

Apart from sporting a totally rad green mohawk, the turtle breathes through its genitals. As CNN reports:

The Mary River turtle, native to Queensland, Australia, has the unusual ability to breathe underwater through specialized glands in its cloaca — a posterior opening for excretion and reproduction.

This biological function allows the turtle — referred to as a "butt breather" — to stay underwater for up to three days. That ability also usually provides these turtles with a vibrant green mohawk, the result of algae growing on their heads because of the extended time spent submerged.

Rikki Gumbs, a reptile biologist at Zoological Society London (ZSL), told CNN that because of the exotic pet trade in the 1960s and '70s, the turtles were often kept as pets and were already at risk of being endangered when they were first recognized as a species in the 1990s.

"The turtle takes a long time to reach sexual maturity, taking up to 25 to 30 years," he said. "As their vulnerability was discovered late, we lost a whole generation due to the pet trade and now their population has become very small."

The one fragile upside here is that because the turtle is both endangered and incredibly weird, it has some utility in calling attention to the biodiversity that human activity is eradicating from the planet.

Such is the conclusion of the Zoological Society of London, which has for years published lists of endangered species — but this year began publishing lists specifically of "evolutionarily distinct" species that are in danger of vanishing. They're good at capturing the imagination! Here's their list of the "Top 100 Edge Reptiles", where the Mary River Turtle is #29.

As the New York Times notes ….

Mr. Gumbs, who is pursuing a Ph.D. jointly at Imperial College London and the zoological society, said that evolutionary distinctiveness is not exactly the same as weirdness, but not far off.

It is a measure of "how alone you are on the tree of life," he said. Those species do "tend to be weird and wonderful in the way they live."

(Photo courtesty the Zoologic Society London)