About a decade ago, Roman's work led to analysis of turtle meat sold in Louisiana, which uncovered widespread fraud. "Approximately one in three samples of turtle meat sold in the state were actually alligator," he says. In 2012, the Center for Biological Diversity and others filed a petition with the federal government to protect the alligator snapping turtle and fifty-two other reptiles and amphibians, under the Endangered Species Act. Reacting to the new species discovery, on April 16 the advocacy group sent an additional appeal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Now we know alligator snappers in the Suwannee River are a unique species found nowhere else in the world," Collette Adkins Giese, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "And the much-needed Endangered Species Act listing for these turtles would help ensure that the Suwannee River is protected for the turtles and for humans."
Alligator snapping turtles are secretive and so slow-moving that algae grow on their backs. A sit-and-wait predator, they have a wormlike lure on their tongue that draws in fish, "and then snap!" says Roman. "They hardly ever come onto land, and they don't swim in seawater either," he says, which helps explain how a distinct species arose, in the case of the Suwannee alligator snapping turtle, in just one river.
|Contact: Joshua Brown|
University of Vermont