Irwin's turtle

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Irwin's turtle
Irwin's turtle (2261030419).jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Pleurodira
Family: Chelidae
Genus: Elseya
Subgenus: Pelocomastes
E. irwini
Binomial name
Elseya irwini
Cann, 1997[1]

Irwin's turtle (Elseya irwini) is a rare species of freshwater turtle in the family Chelidae. The species is endemic to Australia, originating from the lower region of the Burdekin River area in northern Queensland, and was named after conservationist and television personality Steve Irwin.


Steve Irwin and his father, naturalist Bob Irwin, caught a female specimen of E. irwini on a crocodile-catching trip on the Burdekin River in 1990, on a fishing line.[2] Steve Irwin took pictures and sent them to turtle expert John Cann, who verified that it was indeed a new species.[3] The new species was named after Steve Irwin.[a][1][2][4][5]


The female of the species E. irwini has a pale head with a yellowish horny sheath on the crown.[6] The pale color present in the female of this species is due to a lack of multiple pigments which affect essentially all parts of the body.[7] These individuals are known for their sturdy skull, which is supported by a narrow muscle called the pterygoid, creating a shielding for the skull and providing normal jaw functions.[8]

Burdekin River (1887)


E. irwini, like some other turtles,[9] can breathe underwater by taking water into its cloaca.[citation needed] The cloaca is a cavity at the end of the digestive tract containing a chamber with gill-like structures which allow for the diffusion of oxygen.[10] Without this structure, this species of turtle would not be able to stay under water for long periods of time. Irwin's turtle needs to live in a source of water that is plentiful with oxygen. If the water has low oxygen levels or is filled with contaminants, the turtle has a lower chance of survival.[citation needed]


The habitat of the Irwin's Turtle has been impacted by the construction of the Burdekin Dam, which has caused a decline in water quality of the Burdekin River, which makes it hard for this species to survive and reproduce. Plans for the construction of Urannah Dam have been opposed, as this would cause further impacts and habitat contraction.[11]

Habitat and conservation status[edit]

The turtle has been plentiful in Broken River and Bowen Creek. It had not been observed in the Lower Burdekin River in the 20 years preceding May 2022, until its presence was officially confirmed by researchers from James Cook University led by Cecilia Villacorta Rath.[4]

The species has not been listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) owing to lack of data on the species.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Note that some sources state that it was named after Bob, or both Steve and Bob, but John Cann's original 1997 paper says Steve,[1] and a 2006 Sydney Morning Herald article quoting him confirms this.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Cann, J (1997). "Irwin's Turtle, Elseya irwini sp. nov." (PDF). Monitor: Journal of the Victorian Herpetological Society. 9 (1): 36–40.
  2. ^ a b c Shanahan, Leo; Sams, Christine (8 October 2006). "Endangered: a living legacy of Steve Irwin". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 May 2022. The first person to catch the irwini was Steve Irwin's father, Bob, on a fishing line during a family camping trip in 1990... Mr Cann said, "I saw the photos and jumped on the telephone because I knew it was a new species and asked Steve if I could do some work on it. He said, 'go for your life'. That's why I named it after him. I think if someone discovers something they should have a reward for it. It's a good legacy for Steve."
  3. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Elseya irwini, p. 130).
  4. ^ a b c Toomey, Jade (5 May 2022). "Bum-breathing Irwin's turtle resurfaces in Queensland river after 20 years, JCU researchers say". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  5. ^ Australian Associated Press (5 May 2022). "Bum-breathing Irwin's turtle detected in north Queensland for first time in 25 years". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  6. ^ Cann, John (1998). "Irwins Turtle Elseya irwini". Australian Freshwater Turtles. Singapore: Beaumont. pp. 195–198. ISBN 0-646-33978-8.
  7. ^ Turner, Grant S. (2011). "Hypomelanism in Irwin's Turtle, Elseya irwini, from the Johnstone River, North Queensland, Australia". Chelonian Conservation and Biology. 10 (2): 275–281. doi:10.2744/CCB-0851.1. ISSN 1071-8443. S2CID 84403066.
  8. ^ Thomson, Scott; Georges, Arthur; Limpus, Colin J. (1 May 2006). "A New Species of Freshwater Turtle in the Genus Elseya (Testudines: Chelidae) from Central Coastal Queensland, Australia". Chelonian Conservation and Biology. 5 (1): 74–86. doi:10.2744/1071-8443(2006)5[74:ANSOFT]2.0.CO;2. ISSN 1071-8443.
  9. ^ Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Environment. "Rheodytes leukops – Fitzroy River Turtle, Fitzroy Tortoise, Fitzroy Turtle, White-eyed River Diver".
  10. ^ "Cloaca – Definition, Function and Quiz". Biology Dictionary. 4 July 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  11. ^ Beeton, Robert (2009). "Advice to the minister for the environment, heritage and the arts from the threatened species of scientific committee" (PDF). Australia: Department of the Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

External links[edit]