What’s a sideneck turtle?

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Always smiling!

The one continent that doesn’t have any land-living turtles is Australia (aside from Antarctica, which doesn’t have turtles at all). They do have plenty of turtles, though, and we’re now going to include a pink-bellied sideneck turtle (Emydura subglobosa) in our studies. These turtles are native to Australia and New Guinea, and they are a special group of turtles that can’t draw heads back in their shells. When “Pinky” gets scared, all she can do is turn her head to the side–hence then name “sideneck.”

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Here’s how she tries to hide.

The reason for this unusual neck arrangement is due to their skeleton, which can be seen below.

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A “hidden neck” turtle, which is the type people see in North America and Europe, can be seen at left, while a “side neck” turtle can be seen at right.

Sideneck turtles are probably the oldest living group of turtles, and are represented by species in Australia, Africa, and South America. They are classified into the “Pleurodira” suborder, a group that gets its name from the Greek words for “side” and “neck.”  Sea turtles, tortoises (land-dwelling turtles), and most turtles in North America, Europe, and Asia all belong to the Cryptodira, which comes from the Greek for “hidden neck.” Now for somebody who knows a bit of natural history, we might ask how sideneck turtles got to live in Australia, Africa, and South America if they couldn’t have swam across the oceans.

Want a hint?

Look up the word “Gondwana.”

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