Green-haired turtle that breathes through genitals is now endangered

13 Apr 2018

The shock of green hair is a distinctive characteristic of the Mary River turtle. Image: Chris Van Wyk/ZSL

One of the stranger members of the turtle family has sadly joined a list of the most endangered reptile species on the planet.

Unless you live near the Mary River in Queensland, Australia, you’re likely to have never come across the similarly named Mary River turtle, which is remarkably different to some of its cousins.

With its bright shock of green algae hair, fleshy growths under its chin and docile lifestyle, the turtle became a favourite for people in search of an eye-catching and easy pet to take care of.

Future Human

But perhaps its most bizarre feature is the fact that it contains specialised glands in its genitals that allow it to remain submerged for up to 72 hours.

According to The Guardian, a new list compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) charting the most endangered species of reptiles in the world has included the Mary River turtle.

Running since 2007, the ZSL’s Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) list for reptiles has put the turtle in 30th place out of 100, based on a score determined by its isolation or uniqueness, and its risk for extinction.

The only species in its genus, the turtle is believed to have diverged from all other living species approximately 40m years ago.

By comparison, humans as a species split from our closest relatives less than 10m years ago.

25-year breeding cycle

Driving the turtle’s endangered status are environmental and human factors, the ZSL found, with the Mary River turtle taking up to 25 years to breed, an exceptionally long time for a species to maintain a healthy population.

Additionally, both the pet trade and the building of dams in the Queensland area have significantly impacted its population.

The most endangered reptile, according to the list, is the Madagascar big-headed turtle, which is both a unique and prehistoric reptile.

Given its name, its distinctive feature is its large head in comparison with its body, and a colouration that sometimes makes it appear as if it has a gold shell.

Native to the waterways and wetlands of western Madagascar, the turtle is the sole surviving species in its genus on a family tree that stretches back more than 80m years.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic