Mary River Turtle, Elusor macrurus Click to enlarge image
Mary River Turtle (adult), Elusor macrurus. Image: J Cann/Nature Focus
© Australian Museum

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    macrurus
    Genus
    Elusor
    Family
    Chelidae
    Suborder
    Pleurodira
    Order
    Testudines
    Subclass
    Testudinata
    Class
    Reptilia
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    Shell Length: adult: 34 cm; hatchling 3 - 4 cm

Introduction

This distinctive species of freshwater turtle was only described by scientists in 1994 from the Mary River in the hinterland of the Brisbane region. As a fully grown adult it is probably our largest freshwater turtle, and it is intriguing how it escaped notice by herpetologists for so long.

Identification

As an adult, the Mary River Turtle has a low streamlined shell, moderately short neck, and well webbed fore and hind limbs. One of the most distinctive features of this species is the extremely long tail in adult males, which can be as long as 70% of the shell length.

Habitat

The Mary River Turtle lives in freshwater habitats.

Distribution

The Mary River.


Mary River Australia
Mary River, Queensland, Australia, Image: Design Unit
© Australian Museum

Conversation status

The Mary River Turtle was in fact known from hatchlings, which were sold in pet shops in Victoria as 'Penny-turtle'. It was through these that the species came to the attention of Sydney turtle researcher John Cann, a local identity whose family ran a public snake and lizard exhibition every weekend at La Perouse for more than half a century. John Cann had a long association with the Australian Museum during his years of turtle research. He had already discovered and co-authored the description of a large and unusual species of freshwater turtle from the Fitzroy River, a species which is now recognised as one of the most threatened in eastern Australia due to its unusual biology. John has also written the only comprehensive treatment of all Australian turtles. During a period spanning more than 20 years he tried to trace the source of the baby turtles that were being sent to the Victorian pet shops. After many unsuccessful attempts and a few false trails he located the source, which was a property on the Mary River.

John described the turtle with American researcher John Leggler in 1994. Like his previous discovery, the Fitzroy River Turtle, the turtle from the Mary River is equally strange in its biology. Both species share a mode of 'cloacal breathing' where oxygen is taken in through the surface of the cloaca. And it also is recognised as one of the most threatened species of freshwater turtle in eastern Australia.