‘Punk’ turtle that breathes through its genitals is under threat.
The Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus) has a head crowned by vertical strands of algae that also grow on its body.
In addition, it sports face furniture in the form of long fleshy barbels under its chin.
However, perhaps the Mary River turtle’s most unusual feature is its ability to breath through its genitals.
The turtle has gill-like organs within its cloaca – a multi-purpose orifice used by reptiles for excretion and mating – that allow it to stay underwater for up to three days.
The turtle, which measures up to 40cm, lives in just one location – the Mary River in Queensland.
Its docile nature – more hippy than punk – historically made it a popular pet. In the 1960s and 1970s its nest sites were mercilessly pillaged for the pet trade.
Today, the Mary River turtle is one of the world’s most endangered turtle species.
The turtle is just one of many weird and wonderful species featured in the Zoological Society of London (ZSL’s) Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) Reptiles list.
The Edge programme uses a complex formula to award a threat score to unusual species at risk of extinction.
The Mary River turtle ranks number 30 in the league table of 572 reptiles. Top of the list is one of its cousins, the Madagascan big-headed turtle (Erymnochelys madagascariensis), with an Edge score higher than that of any other amphibian, bird or mammal.
Other standout species include the Round Island keel-scaled boa from Mauritius (casarea dussumieri), that can change colour and is the only vertebrate known to have a hinged upper jaw and the Minute Leaf chameleon (Brookesia minima), from Madagascar, which measures just three centimetres.
“Reptiles often receive the short end of the stick in conservation terms, compared with the likes of birds and mammals,” Edge reptiles co-ordinator Rikki Gumbs said.
“Just as with tigers, rhinos and elephants, it is vital we do our utmost to save these unique and too often overlooked animals. Many Edge reptiles are the sole survivors of ancient lineages whose branches of the Tree of Life stretch back to the age of the dinosaurs.
“If we lose these species, there will be nothing like them left on Earth.”