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New Turtle Species Described In Alabama

The intermediate musk turtle sits morphologically between the stripe neck musk turtle and the loggerhead musk turtle.

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This article has been updated to reflect that Peter Scott described a new turtle species, and not discovered it. 

A researcher who was trying to determine if the logger-head musk turtle  (Sternotherus minor) and the stripe-necked musk turtle (S. m. peltifer) were creating a hybrid species, instead described a completely new turtle species, the intermediate musk turtle (S. intermedius sp. nov).


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Peter Scott, a University of California, at Los Angeles post-doctoral scholar, wasn’t trying to describe a new species when he was researching the mating patterns of the logger-head musk turtle and the stripe-necked turtle, but that is exactly what happened.


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“I never went out with a goal of describing a new turtle at all," Scott told Bhamnow.com. I really came to this with an open mind. I thought all the previous biologists were correct.  When I got my data and started analyzing it, the data spoke and said this is worthy of special recognition.”

“What’s nice is the distribution of this turtle is shared by a lot of other aquatic biodiversity in Alabama, like freshwater snails, mussels and fish. They all have almost the exact distribution that is isolated in these specific watershed, so they have something special and interesting evolutionary going on in this system.”

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The turtle, endemic to Alabama’s Escambia River and Choctawhatchee River basins, is about 4 to 5 inches in carapace length, has a big head, and is described by Scott as a “cute, pugnacious big headed little animals, that are fun to see.” “You can see them walking a creek bottom or snorkling while they are out foraging on the river bottom,” Scott told BHam Now.

An abstract of Scott's paper,  "Resolving taxonomic turbulence and uncovering cryptic diversity in the musk turtles (Sternotherus) using robust demographic modeling" can be read on the Science Direct website.