You'd think its punk-rock hair would be enough to bring an Australian turtle fans, even before they learn of its ability to breathe through its genitals. But if overlooked now, researchers hope the Mary River Turtle's spot on a list of unique, endangered reptiles will bring necessary attention before it's too late. Found only in the Mary River of Queensland, the docile turtle that spouts green algae resembling spiky hair is in the 29th spot on the Zoological Society of London's Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) list, which identifies 572 reptiles in all. Its cousin, the Madagascan big-headed turtle, takes the top spot, with a score denoting it as more at risk than any other amphibian, bird, or mammal in the world, per the Press Association.
"Just as with tigers, rhinos, and elephants, it is vital we do our utmost to save these unique and too often overlooked animals," says an EDGE coordinator, noting many endangered reptiles "are the sole survivors of ancient lineages" that "stretch back to the age of the dinosaurs." In the case of the Mary River Turtle—which uses gill-like organs to breathe when underwater—"you have to go back about 50 million years to find a closely related species," a researcher tells Reuters. Though the Mary River Turtle's total population isn't known, numbers plummeted beginning in the 1960s, when nest sites were pillaged and the reptiles sold as pets. Advocates hope the new listing will help in the push for better protection of its habitat. (Read more reptiles stories.)