Today is Australia Day, also known as Anniversary Day and Foundation Day, the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, the day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, the unfurling of the British flag at Sydney Cove and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia. This day of celebration is very similar to America’s 4th of July. The National Aquarium celebrated with visitors in the Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit this past weekend. Let’s take a look at a very special Australian animal that is now featured in the exhibit:
Irwin’s turtle was discovered by Steve Irwin and his father Bob on a camping trip in 1990. Because the turtle was new to them, it was photographed and sent to a turtle expert. After Steve Irwin’s death, the expert, John Cann, determined that the animal was indeed a new species. It was subsequently named Elseya irwini, with the common name, Irwin’s turtle. Ecologist Dr. Ivan Lawler suggests that the species, known only from the Burdekin and Bowen rivers in Australia, may be endangered or close to it. Lawler’s “best guess” is that there are only 4,000 to 5,000 in the wild.
Irwin’s turtle is a large, short-necked animal with a carapace a little over 300 mm long (almost 1 foot) and 240 mm wide (almost 9 inches). Females have a yellowish-white head that includes a white horny shield on the crown. Nose, eye, and mouth can have a rosy pink tinge.
Little is known about the abundance and distribution of this species. The Aquarium has a breeding program for these turtles. Two youngsters, born here about 2 years ago, are now on exhibit in the rainbowfish display in Australia. The parents are in the Animal Care Center and the hope is that they will breed again. Be sure to seek out Irwin’s turtle during your next visit.