The Turtle from Mary River

Until recently the adult Mary River Turtle, Elusor macrurus, had escaped the notice of herpetologists - despite probably being Australia's largest freshwater turtle.

Mary River Turtle (hatchling)

Mary River Turtle (hatchling)
Photographer: S Humphreys © Australian Museum

It can grow to a shell-length of 34 cm, but its hatchlings are very small, having a shell-length of just 3-4 cm.

The turtle's tiny hatchlings were sold in pet shops in Victoria as 'penny-turtles'. It was through these that the species came to the attention of Sydney turtle researcher John Cann, whose family has run a public snake and lizard exhibition every weekend at La Perouse for more than half a century. John has had a long association with the Australian Museum during his years of turtle research, and has written the only comprehensive work on Australian turtles.

For over 20 years John Cann tried to trace the source of the 'penny turtles' that were being sent to the Victorian pet shops. After many unsuccessful attempts and a few false trails he located the adult turtles at a property on the Mary River, in the hinterland of the Brisbane region, Queensland.

John described the turtle with American researcher John Leggler in 1994. The Mary River Turtle is now recognised as one of the most threatened species of freshwater turtle in eastern Australia. The Australian Museum holds several of the adult and juvenile specimens from which the species was originally described.

Ross Sadlier , Collection Manager, Herpetology
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