Article image

Newly discovered turtle species is already critically endangered

A once abundant and widespread species of turtle known as the Chinese Softshell Turtle has gone through several reclassifications over the years, as taxonomists realized that what was thought to be one species was actually four distinct species.

Researchers from Hungary, Germany, and Vietnam recently discovered a new fifth species of softshell turtle and described their findings in a new study published in the journal ZooKeys.

This new species has dark blotches on its shell and is genetically and morphologically different from the other four species in the Chinese Softshell Turtle genus.

The new species, called Pelodiscus variegatus is particularly fitting as “variegatus” is Latin for “spotted.”

Image Credit: Thomas Ziegler

“This morphological feature, among others, led to the discovery that these animals belong to a hitherto undescribed species,” said Uwe Fritz, a co-author of the study.

However, with the discovery of each new species, the abundance of this once thought rich and widespread species of turtles is called into question, and the reality is that the turtles may be more endangered than previously realized.

Pelodiscus variegatus is no exception, and the researchers say that each newly discovered species of Chinese Softshell Turtle reduces not only individual populations but also species’ distribution.

In fact, the new species was once thought to belong to a species of softshell turtle discovered in 1997 that was already endangered upon its discovery. Now that that species has been split, the risk of extinction only increases.

“Until now, the newly described Spotted Softshell Turtle was considered part of the Lesser Chinese Softshell Turtle Pelodiscus parviformis…which was already considered critically endangered,” said Balázs Farkas, a lead author of the study. “Now that its southern representatives have been assigned to a different species, the Spotted Softshell Turtle, the overall population size of each species is even smaller.”

The new species Pelodiscus variegatus is critically endangered based on the IUCN Red List criteria.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day