Irwin’s Bum-Breathing Turtle Detected for the First Time in 25 Years

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DNA analysis of water samples in north Queensland has revealed the existence of a “bum-breathing” turtle species. This species was last observed in the area over 25 years ago.

Researchers from James Cook University analyzed environmental DNA (eDNA) from the Burdekin River near Ayr. Which confirms the existence of Irwin’s turtles at multiple locations.

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Bum-breathing turtle
(Image source: abc.net.au)

They are named after the late Steve Irwin and his father, Bob. Moreover there have not been any records of their existence in the Burdekin for almost a quarter-century. Bob and Steve Irwin discovered the turtle in the Burdekin catchment in the early 1990s. It breathes underwater through its cloaca.

Villacorta-Rath said, “This rediscovery has now challenged the previous hypothesis that the species could not survive in these conditions.”

According to researchers, the rediscovery was noteworthy because the river’s dynamics have changed since the Burdekin Falls Dam was erected. In 2020 and 2021, researchers studied the Burdekin, Bowen, and Broken rivers three times. Moreover, they covered 37 locations across the three catchments.

“Previously, it’s been very difficult to sample for the Irwin’s turtle because they only live in places where there are crocodiles, or in upland tributaries which are very hard to access,” Burrows said. He further added, “But now with eDNA, all we had to do was take a water sample and analyze their DNA.”

Researchers do not have to catch turtles for samples because of the eDNA technique. Which extracts DNA from soil, sediment, and water. Despite the fact that eDNA cannot identify the turtles’ ages, research officer Dr Cecilia Villacorta-Rath believes the discovery is noteworthy.

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