World Turtle Day: Mary River Turtles

From the upland tropical rain forest to the wild extremes of Australia, the National Aquarium is home to almost a dozen unique species of turtles.

Published May 23, 2018

World Turtle Day was established by American Tortoise Rescue in 2000 to recognize and bring attention to the survival of turtles and tortoises across the world. A recent report from Global Wildlife Conservation states that more than 50 percent of the world's 356 known species of turtles and tortoises are currently threatened with extinction or are nearly extinct.

Mary River turtle looking at the camera 

On this year’s World Turtle Day, which is celebrated annually on May 23, we're highlighting one of the most mysterious, unique and endangered species on the planet, the Mary River turtle. This turtle is so elusive, the term gave way to its scientific name of Elusor macrurus.

The Mary River turtle is native to just one place in the wild–the Mary River in southeast Queensland, Australia. The Aquarium is one of the only places in the world to not only care for these endangered turtles, but also to have successful reproduction of the species outside of Australia.

Unlike most other aquatic turtles, during their active seasons, the Mary River turtle can stay underwater for days at a time due to a unique feature of its abnormally large and long tail. Its cloaca, the interior of the tail, is lined with gill-like structures that extract oxygen directly from the water–earning them the nickname of “butt breather.”

The Mary River turtle also has two rounded projections, known as tubercles, under its chin, allowing it to detect nearby prey movement in cloudy water.

The Mary River turtle, like many turtle species, is endangered, and was recently placed 30th on Zoological Society of London’s Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) list for reptiles. The Mary River turtles are most threatened by human activity–including loss and modification of its river habitat.

Collectively supporting a healthy ocean ecosystem can ensure wildlife diversity and help save endangered and threatened species, such the Mary River turtle.

Learn more about the National Aquarium’s commitment to tackling the issues facing endangered species!
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