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Australia’s Menopause-Busting Turtles: Freshwater Species of the Week

Photo: Eastern longneck turtle
Australia's freshwater turtles, like the Eastern longneck, may hold medical secrets, though they are in peril. Photo: Marcus Couper, Flickr Creative Commons

 

Australia’s unique freshwater turtles (like the Eastern longneck pictured) may hold promise for medical breakthroughs. The reptiles can live longer than a century and they don’t seem to go through menopause, suggesting that they may have anti-aging properties.

Freshwater turtle expert Ricky Spencer of the University of Western Sydney told Australian media that, paradoxically, the oldest turtles produce the most eggs. “There’s no sign of menopause so they’re defying the common-held view that cell death is inevitable,” Spencer said.freshwater species of the week

“These guys are either delaying that, or they don’t expire like any other vertebrate,” he added.

Unfortunately, Australia’s freshwater turtles are also highly endangered, in large part due to over-tapping of the Murray-Darling River Basin that supports many of them. That basin is also the source of much of the country’s agriculture, as well as water used for cities. (Charles Fishman recently wrote about the Aussie who uses as much water as 50,000 people.)

With flows a fraction of their historic levels, there’s a lot less turtle habitat. Combine that with rising salinity and inflows of fertilizers and pollutants, and these hardy animals suffer a one-two punch. Those that can tolerate the poor water quality have to contend with invasive species like hungry foxes.

Fortunately, Australian officials are looking more closely at the problem, as Sandra Postel recently reported. The country is making strides to reduce water consumption and return some water to turtles. One day we may have a lot to thank them for.

We wouldn’t want to disappoint this kid:

Brian Clark Howard is an Environment Writer and Editor at National Geographic News. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, Miller-McCune and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen Lighting and Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.