Near Extinction: Turtle That Breathes Through Its Butt

In the right conditions, the white-throated snapping turtle can live to 100
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2014 8:23 AM CST
Near Extinction: Turtle That Breathes Through Its Butt
An endangered white-throated snapping turtle suns itself.   (Jason Schaffer)

The days of the white-throated snapping turtle (Elseya albagula) appear to be numbered, according to the Australian government, which has recently declared them critically endangered. If that isn't attention-grabbing enough, consider that the animal prompted a biologist to talk like this: "These turtles breathe out of their ass, which is super awesome." That's James Cook University researcher Jason Schaffer, who's spent eight years studying the turtles in a habitat where dams, agriculture, and predation are making it increasingly difficult for them to survive, reports Scientific American.

One of Australia's largest freshwater turtle species—which can live to be 100—white-throated snapping turtles do indeed possess an unusual skill: cloacal respiration, by which they extract oxygen from water via their backsides, reports James Cook University. Thanks to dams, though, water is becoming too sluggish for this kind of breathing, bringing the reptiles to the surface, where they're vulnerable to predators, and restricting them from traveling to find mates. And their eggs take seven months to hatch, which is plenty of time to be eaten or trampled. "Almost nothing is surviving," Schaffer says. "There is nothing coming up to replace them. Pretty soon we'll blink and there will be no more left." (It turns out turtle shells predate dinosaurs.)

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