New turtle species found in U.S. river

Aug. 25, 2010 at 8:32 PM

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Scientists have announced the surprise discovery of a new turtle species -- not in some far-off exotic location, but in the southeastern United States.

Northern Arizona University researchers say finding the new turtle in a familiar environment proves that even in a country considered well explored, more new species could still be awaiting discovery, a university release said Wednesday.

Discovered in the Pearl River that flows through Louisiana and Mississippi on its way to the Gulf of Mexico, the newly named Pearl Map Turtle had until now been mistaken for one native to the neighboring Pascagoula River, scientists said.

"You'd expect to see similar aquatic species in these rivers due to their proximity," NAU biologist Jeff Lovich said. "However, with sea level changes associated with glacial and interglacial periods in the past, animals in these rivers were periodically separated for tens of thousands to millions of years."

Shell pattern variations between turtles in the two rivers and examination of their DNA verified the turtles in each river were of different species.

Discovery of the Pearl Map Turtle brings the number of native turtle species in the United States to 57, with approximately 320 species documented worldwide, researchers said.

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