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Nature

This Might Be Australia's First Hybrid Turtle

author

Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockApr 13 2016, 16:32 UTC
962 This Might Be Australia's First Hybrid Turtle
The rescue turtle, named Summer, being treated. Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium

A turtle rescued from a Queensland port in Australia could be the first hybrid of its kind in the country.

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The turtle, rescued by a passerby after it became tangled in a crab pot, appears to be a cross between a hawksbill and a green turtle.

The turtle was taken to the Reef HQ Aquarium’s turtle hospital on the Great Barrier Reef, where vets removed fish hooks lodged in the turtle’s mouth. It was then sent to the James Cook University’s veterinary school, where more analyses were conducted to make sure it was healthy.

When it was returned to Reef HQ for rehabilitation, researchers noticed its unusual appearance.

“This turtle is quite unique looking and it certainly isn’t like any of the others we’ve had come into the turtle hospital over the 27-odd years that we’ve been open,” said Hamish Tristram, a senior aquarist at Reef HQ, to Australian Geographic.

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The turtle, nicknamed Summer by Hamish’s daughter, exhibits physical characteristics that don't seem to belong to either the hawksbill or the green turtle, but a combination of both. This means the team at Reef HQ have not been able to classify it based on what it looks like.

“The post-ocular scales that go behind the eyes – generally the green turtle has four and the hawksbill has three,” explained Hamish. “This particular animal has three on one side and four on the other so it has an intermediate [trait] or has features of both.”

Genetic testing and a laparoscopy (a surgical procedure into the abdomen) will be undertaken to determine if Summer is indeed a hybrid. Hybrids, like mules or ligers, are often sterile, so it would be interesting to test whether Summer is able to breed.

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Turtle hybrids have been observed in East Africa and Southern and Central America, so many researchers are interested to find out whether Summer will turn out to be the first one recorded in Australia. 

[H/T: Australian Geographic]


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