TURTLE: a new species discovered in MEXICO

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Residents had reported the presence of this turtle for twenty years but scientists have been slow to recognize that it was a new species. The small turtle living near Puerto Vallarta in western Mexico is said to be at high risk of extinction.

People have been alerting scientists for its existence for years, but it was not until May that this small turtle living in western Mexico was recognized as a new species . Kinosternon vogti has a yellow spot on the tip of its nose and is more agile than its congeners. She lives in streams or rivers near the seaside town of Puerto Vallarta , in the state of Jalisco, on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

“This is an endemic species , unique to this site,” says Fabio German Cupul, professor at the University of Guadalajara. Her steps are faster than those of other turtles and she likes to put herself in the shade of a tree to shelter from the sun . Nicknamed  “small helmet of Vallarta”because of the similarity of its shell with a helmet, it does not exceed 10 centimeters in length and fits in the palm of a hand. “It is wider than it is tall, unlike all the other species that exist,” says Fabio German Cupul. It belongs to the genus  Kinosternon , of which there are 12 other species in Mexico.

Kinosternon vogti is threatened with extinction

The new species has been named  Kinosternon  vogti in honor of American herpetologist Richard Vogt, who has been working on turtles in the United States, Mexico and Central America for more than 40 years. Only nine specimens could be studied, including four live (three males and one female) and five dead discoveries. The small number of specimens still alive makes this turtle a species  “at high risk of extinction “ , warns Fabio German Cupul. A male and a female have since integrated a farm in the state of Tabasco (eastern Mexico), while two other males have joined an enclosure on a crocodile farm in Puerto Vallarta.

The villagers reported the presence of this reptile about 20 years ago, but the scientists thought it was a juvenile specimen of other species already known in the area. It was not until the last five years that scientists became interested in it. The results of their work were published in May in the scientific journal Chelonian Conservation and Biology , which specializes in studying turtles.

Dr. Kimberly Seltzer

Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley Research Assistant, MIT

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