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Rainbow Rarity – the Jardine River Painted turtle

Technicolour turtles from the Jardine River on Cape York Peninsula have a new name.

Taxonomists – biologists that group plants and animals into categories –­­­­­­ have named the colourful sub-species of Painted turtle angkibaanya after an Aboriginal Gudang language word for rainbow. This word from northern Cape York was recorded by naturalist John MacGillivray during the H.M.S. Rattlesnake expedition of the late 1840s.

Animal species are often divided into sub-species when different parts of a population are isolated. Jardine River Painted turtles have been separated from their closest relatives in New Guinea for at least 8,000 years since there was a land bridge connecting them. Compared to New Guinea Painted turtles, angkibaanya are rounder and sport different patterns of fluoro-orange on their shells.

Found only along the Jardine River, angkibaanya is one of Australia’s rarest turtles. Apudthama Land and Sea Rangers look after the turtles and their habitat by trapping pigs that damage nesting areas.

Originally published in Double Helix. Copyright CSIRO.

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