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Bad News For Australia’s White-Throated Snapping Turtle

Australia’s white-throated snapping turtle (Elseya albagula) is in danger of becoming extinct due in part to the construction of dams as we

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Australia’s white-throated snapping turtle (Elseya albagula) is in danger of becoming extinct due in part to the construction of dams as well as agricultural encroachment, according to James Cook University researcher Jason Schaffer. Schaffer, who has been studying the critically endangered turtles in rivers in Queensland for close to a decade, says the turtles may be common in Queensland’s Connors River but are disappearing from the Fitzroy, Burnett and Mary Rivers. Schaffer said that there are few new recruits and the turtles are experiencing a near 100 percent loss in eggs and juvenile turtles. 

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"White-throated snapping turtles probably live close to 100 years and don't start breeding till they are about 20 years old," Schaffer told Australia’s NewsMail. "Hatchling/juvenile turtles have a higher mortality in the river, coupled with a higher reliance on aquatic respiration, and so are more vulnerable to the degradation of water quality. They are simply not surviving." 

The white throated snapping turtle is unique in the turtle world in that it can breathe via cloacal respiration. In other words, it can breathe through its backside.  The construction of dams and weirs, sedimentation, and erosion from agriculture and mining are the main factors causing the decline of the species, while introduced and native predators are destroying their nests, Schaffer said. He said that the turtles left in the population are aging adults. 

The white-throated snapping turtle was described in 2006 and was previously thought to be the more common northern snapping turtle (Elseya dentata). It is different from Elseya dentata in that it has an irregular white or cream colored marking on the throat and lower sides of the face. It has a carapace length of up to 16.5 inches (420mm).  It feeds mainly onaquatic plants as well as fallen fruit such as figs and the occasional aquatic insects, snails, and small cane toads. Elseya albagula is unique in that it can stay under water for up to three hours and can absorb oxygen via its cloacal brusae. Aussies call them "bum breathers" because of this characteristic.

John B. Virata keeps a ball python, two corn snakes, a kingsnake, and two leopard geckos. His first snake, a California kingsnake, was purchased at the Pet Place in Westminster, CA for $5. His first pet reptile was a green anole that arrived in a small box via mail order. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata