The Fitzroy River Turtle (Rheodytes leukops) is a unique turtle found only in the Fitzroy River in eastern Queensland. The R. leukops is able to breathe normally above water but can remain underwater for anywhere up to twenty one days during winter and four days during spring. It is able to remain submerged for such phenomenal amounts of time due to an extremely unusual respiratory function. The R. leukops can survive on oxygen extracted from water taken into its cloaca, a cavity in the pelvic region into which the alimentary canal and the genital and urinary ducts open. Unfortunately the species is under threat as a plan has been proposed, encouraging the damming its habitat, the Fitzroy River.
Identification of the genus Rheodytes
The R. leukops comes from the family Chelidae and is monotypic; meaning that it is part of either a genus or species that consists of only one type of animal or plant. It is the only member of the genus Rheodytes. It is distinguishable by its relatively short neck in comparison to the rest of its body as well as many marking found on the chelid (BARBOUR, 1984). When the head and neck of the turtle are fully extended, they are still much shorter than the length of the shell, which averages twenty-five centimeters in a full-grown adult. The head is narrow and high with a short snout and the R. leukops? toes are heavily webbed. Males have longer, thicker tails with the vent beyond the edge of the carapace. The female?s tail is short with the vent beneath the carapace. The genus that the R. leukops is most closely related to is Elseya. However, it can be easily distinguished from this genus by many physical characteristics. Unlike members of the genus Elseya, the R. leukops has five claws on both of its front feet, a simple pair of barbells on the chin and a bright white ring around the iris (COGGER, 1996). However, the most uniquely identifying physical characteristics of the R. leukops is its very large...
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