The “Mary River Turtle (Elusor macrurus)” is River Queensland, Australia, and possesses rare biological traits that make the turtle highly distinctive.
The turtle is one of Australia’s largest freshwater turtles and is also referred to as a “Butt-breather” as it can breathe underwater through its cloaca — the posterior orifice serving as the only opening for reproductive, digestive and urinary tract. And because of this specialised respiratory system they can spend more time in water up to three days due to which algae grows on its body and head giving a green punk-rock hairstyle to the turtle. This growth of algae also allows it to camouflage with its surroundings.
The algae grows on its body and head and two long whiskers or barbels (slender tactile organ) emerging out of its chin make the turtle appear like an ageing rock.
The body of the adult turtle has an elongated, streamlined shell with a moderate short neck and well-webbed limbs. Adult males possess an extremely long tail which can be as long as two-thirds of the carapace length.
Usually, the body of the Mary River Turtle is dark grey whereas the shell can be dark brown to red with plastron a lighter grey to cream or light yellow colour.
Popular for its features, the Mary River Turtle was named as one of the species on the brink of extinction according to the Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) Reptiles list of Zoological Society of London. The turtle was formally described as a species in the 1990s.
However, during the 1960s and 70s the turtle fell victim to pet trade which ultimately dwindled their numbers.
Another major reason for their vulnerability to extinction is the exceptionally long time to reach sexual maturity which is about 25 to 30 years.