Irwin’s Turtle is an Australian turtle species that lives in the Broken-Bowen river system and the lower Burdekin River. It was named after its “co-discoverer”, the late Steve Irwin, who was a famous zoologist and TV personality. In actual fact, Bob Irwin, who is Steve Irwin’s dad, first caught this animal on a fishing line in 1997 during a family camping trip. Neither Steve or Bob Irwin had ever seen this type of turtle before, so Steve Irwin sent it to John Cann who is a turtle expert. Cann verified that it was a new species.
This turtle has a special ability to stay underwater for long periods of time. It breathes underwater by taking water into its cloaca. In the cloaca, there is a chamber with gill-like structures which extracts oxygen. As a result, this enables the turtle to stay underwater for a long time without needing to take any breaths.
It has a large but short neck with an upper shell that is just over 300mm long, and 240mm wide. Its mouth, nose, and eyes have a rosy pink tinge to it. Female Irwin’s turtles have a pale head, with a yellow horny skin on the top of its head.
The turtle is believed to eat plant material and small snails.
Sadly, this species is facing extinction. There are only 4000 – 5000 of this species left in the wild, according to James Cook University’s Dr Ivan Lawler, who is an Ecologist at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. University researchers caught 82 turtles, and only 5 of them have been juveniles. As a result, this may indicate that they are a near threatened species as when the older turtles die, there may not be enough young turtles to replace them. Another interesting fact is that out of the 77 adults caught, only 5 of them were males.
Irwin’s turtles bask on rocks and logs, and will float with their head just breaking the surface of the water. They lay eggs in nests that have been dug into the banks of the river. Nesting occurs during May and June, although it has been recorded that there was a nesting in September where 12 eggs were laid. It took 111 days for these eggs to hatch.
Not much is known about this animal so its threats other than human ones are unknown. However, they may suffer similar threats to freshwater turtle species like illegal collection and feral animals preying on them.