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Kidadl Team

AUGUST 09, 2021

Mary River Turtle: 21 Facts You Won't Believe!

Mary River turtle facts, like Krefft's Turtle, a close cousin of Mary River turtles, is also found in Queensland, Australia, are interesting.

A Mary River turtle, Elusor macrurus, is one of Australia's largest turtle species. This freshwater turtle is endemic to the Mary River in Queensland, Australia. While they have existed for millions of years, they were recognized as an evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered species only in the 1990s. Prior to this, these river turtles and their eggs were sold easily in Australian shops. Also, their young ones (hatchlings) were a huge part of the pet trade and sold in Australia as penny turtles or pet shop turtles.

Mary River turtles are unique creatures who weigh up to 18 lb (8.5 kg), can stay underwater for long periods (up to 72 hours). They are characterized by their flexible side necks, dark gray bodies, brown protective scales, and long tails. The freshwater turtle is most identified in water by the green algae growing on their head! It is this unique look that gives this green-haired Mary River turtle its Australian nickname, punk rock turtle.

Australia's Mary River turtles are now an endangered species, with less than 1,000 of them living in the wild. They also achieved fame due to Chris Van Wyk, an Australian photographer who captured them in their native home range in the Mary River, Queensland, Australia. The Mary River turtle is classified as Endangered according to the IUCN.

You may also check out sea turtle facts and bog turtle facts from Kidadl.

Mary River Turtle Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Mary River turtle?

A Mary River turtle is a four-legged reptile with a hard shell, much like a tortoise. But unlike a tortoise, turtles can also breathe and live in water. For this, Mary River turtles have gill-like formations on their long tail. They give them the ability to stay comfortably underwater for up to 72 hours.

What class of animal does a Mary River turtle belong to?

Mary River turtles belong to the Reptilia class of animals.

How many Mary River turtles are there in the world?

There are less than 1,000 Mary River turtles in the world, a big reason they are listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List. The biggest threat to these endangered turtle species has come from humans, due to fishing, interference in their habitat, and widespread sale of their eggs before hatching. In fact, young Mary River turtles were also sold indiscriminately as pet store turtles for a significant part of the 20th century! Fortunately, there are many zoological societies in Australia today, committed to saving this endangered species for the future.

Where does a Mary River turtle live?

The Mary River turtle lives in freshwater, ponds, streams, and even marshy areas. This Endangered species is also traditionally endemic to the Mary River, in Queensland, Australia.

What is a Mary River turtle's habitat?

Mary River turtles prefer to stay underwater. For this, they have gill-like formations on their long tail, to take in oxygen and comfortably stay underwater for up to 72 hours. They also breathe through their cloaca, a posterior opening that is also used for excretion and reproduction. They are hence playfully called bum breathers or cloaca breathers in their native Australia.

Like most aquatic animals, Mary River turtles are cold-blooded creatures. So they are most happy pruning themselves underwater. But these freshwater turtles can also exist comfortably on land, sunning under the protection of their hard shell.

Mary River turtles prefer to live on a herbivorous diet of algae when they are in the water. Ironically, this green algae also seems to grow on their head and shell, like hair! Depending on their needs, they will also feed on other small creatures like shelled mollusks, small fish, frogs, and even ducklings. So they are omnivores and can comfortably thrive on both land and water.

Unlike many river turtle species, Mary River turtles have small heads with long legs and big feet. This makes them powerful swimmers, with the ability to swim at speeds of 2.5 mph (4 kph). This comes in very handy when these harmless creatures need to protect themselves from unexpected predators.

Who do Mary River turtles live with?

Mary River turtles are solitary in nature. They prefer to live on their own and underwater. In fact, they can get aggressive or grumpy when you place two Mary River turtles together, especially if they are both males or both females. They also take an exceptionally long time to achieve sexual maturity and seek a mate! This is one of the reasons these precious turtles have become an endangered species. They compete with other turtles for space by remaining submerged.

How long does a Mary River turtle live?

Turtles are traditionally known to have long life spans in their natural habitat. A Mary River turtle is no exception and can live up to 100 years in the wild. Unfortunately, their life span is often cut short by humans, through fishing (for food) and interference in their endemic Mary River habitat. This makes Queensland's Mary River turtle endangered.

How do they reproduce?

Mary River turtles take a long time to achieve sexual maturity. This can be up to 25 years in males, and up to 30 years in females. In fact, many of these turtles even lose their lives due to predators even before they achieve sexual maturity in their life!

Mary River turtles also display sexual dimorphism. Males are noticeably bigger than females, outweighing them by almost 11 lb (5 kg). Males also have longer tails for identification. Males and females get together for a short time during the mating season (Australia’s wet season). During this time, they will swim up to shallow waters and prefer to mate on the ground. They also go their separate ways after the mating act is complete.

A female Mary River turtle can lay an average of 15 eggs in a clutch, along the banks of the Mary River. Unfortunately, not all of these eggs will hatch. Many of them succumb to predators: including snakes, humans, and birds of prey. In fact, even if the female river turtle has a long life span, she delivers no more than 25 river turtles in her entire lifetime.

The young of a Mary River turtle is called a hatchling. Mary River turtles are not the most protective creatures. So the young hatchlings are left to fend on their own, independent of their parents. It is common to see many hatchlings live together in the wild until they are old enough to protect themselves and go about their solitary lives.

What is their conservation status?

The official conservation status of the Mary River Turtle Elusor Macrurus is Endangered. This distinct and globally endangered turtle species are also part of the IUCN Red List.

Firstly, the species of Mary River turtles were surprisingly not recognized as a separate species until the late 20th century. By this time, the species population had significantly reduced due to predators: primarily humans, due to overfishing and the sale of eggs for food. Their young ones (hatchlings) were also randomly sold all across Australian stores, as pet store turtles!

Of particular note is the path-breaking work done by Chris Van Wyk, a photographer who set out to take pictures of his favorite Mary River and the marine life under it, and this was when the Australian government passed a resolution to dam the Mary River in 2003. This endeavor received global attention when he came up with colorful pictures of the Mary River turtle! It quickly became famous as the 'punk rock turtle' in Australia. Since then, noticeable progress has been made by many wildlife and zoological society for the conservation of this endangered species.

Mary River Turtle Fun Facts

What do Mary River turtles look like?

Queensland, Australia is home to many river turtles, including the Fitzroy River turtle, another cousin of Mary River turtles.

Mary River turtles carry typical river turtle characteristics. First, they have very flexible necks attached to their head which can help them withdraw into their protective shells when faced with predators, this also happens during hibernation. This comes from their side necks, where their head actually moves sideways into the shell. They also have long legs and are powerful swimmers. They have an unusually long tail, which enhances their aerodynamic agility and speed in the water. This turtle has a pig nose with a snout and two nostrils but doesn't breathe through this.

They have a dark gray body with a dark brown protective shell. Most importantly, they have gill-like formations on their tail, which help them take in Oxygen in large quantities even when in water. In fact, they are able to stay underwater for long periods of time (up to 72 hours), due to this reason! They breathe through specialized glands in reproductive organs.

How cute are they?

Australia's Mary River turtles are weirdly cute creatures, as is evident by their unique nickname, punk rock turtles. They are also shy creatures who prefer their own company when compared to strangers who may be potential predators. Fortunately, they can be slowly trained to accept the company of a few known humans. This makes it easy for caretakers in a zoological society committed to turtle conservation. Due to the Mary River turtle endangered conservation status, it is not recommended to keep a freshwater Mary River turtle pet.

How do they communicate?

Not much is known about the communication between turtles, as they are normally very solitary creatures. In fact, a Mary River turtle may seek out company, from the opposite gender, only when they want to mate. This also happens relatively late in their life (after 25 years). For this, they use olfactory cues to detect the presence of other Mary River turtles during their native breeding season.

How big is a Mary River turtle?

River turtles are significantly smaller than tortoises, weighing 20 times less than the giant tortoise.

How fast can a Mary River turtle swim?

Mary River turtles are strong and fast swimmers, thanks to their long Mary River turtle feet and tail. They can swim quickly at 2.5 mph (4 kph) when the need arises.

How much does a Mary River turtle weigh?

This species of river turtles are small creatures and can grow up to 18 lb (8.5 kg). Also, males are noticeably larger than females.

What are the male and female names of the species?

Both males and females are known by the same name, as Mary River turtles. But this Endangered species does exhibit mild sexual dimorphism. For instance, males tend to be much bigger than their female counterparts. Also, males have a longer tail (equal in length to the rest of their body) when compared to female Mary River turtles.

What would you call a baby Mary River turtle?

A baby Mary River turtle is called a hatchling. This species is now endangered, and part of IUCN’s Red List. And yet, there were so common at one point (in the 1960s and 1970s) that hatchlings were a part of the pet trade. They were famously sold in pet stores as pet shop turtles or penny turtles.

What do they eat?

The preferred Mary River turtle diet is herbivorous, feeding on algae found in freshwater. But they tend to become omnivores based on necessity, additionally feeding on algae, mollusks, fish, frogs, and young ducklings. Mary River turtles are also preyed on by many creatures, including humans, snakes, reptiles, and birds of prey.

Are they dangerous?

Mary River turtles are harmless creatures, preferring to live by themselves underwater.

Would they make a good pet?

Perhaps they do, as they were once a large part of Australia’s pet trade. (Young Mary River turtles or hatchlings were sold in pet stores as penny turtles). However, this has been a big contributor to this lack of turtle conservation, reducing them an endangered species by the late 20th century. There are now laws in place that protect the indiscriminate sale of these precious turtles, especially of hatchlings as pets to individuals. Keeping them as a pet is not advised.

Did you know...

Mary River turtles use their cloaca, their posterior end, for breathing, reproducing, and for throwing out waste from their body! Yes, these cloaca breathers are also playfully called bum breathers for this reason! They also use this during mating and reproduction during their sexual cycle.

How to tell a male and female Mary River turtle apart

You can tell them apart by their size and tail. Males are bigger and have longer (and thicker) tails than their female counterparts.

How long can a Mary River turtle stay underwater?

Mary River turtles can stay underwater for up to 72 hours. This is possible through several unique features, including gill-like formations on their tail, and their ability to breathe through special glands on their cloaca (reproductive organs).

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other reptiles from our snapping turtle facts and Olive Ridley sea turtle facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable Mary river turtle coloring pages.

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