Photo: Wiki Commons
The Chinese softshell turtle might be an adorable species, but this is one reptile you wouldn't want to steal a kiss from. Biologists from the National University of Singapore have discovered that these unusual creatures are capable of passing urea through their mouths, according to the BBC. It may not sound very appetizing, but it's a surprising and remarkable adaptation for life in brackish water.
Researchers first observed the odd habit while studying how this turtle is capable of holding its breath for so long. They noticed that the turtle would frequently dip its head in the water to rinse out its mouth. Upon closer inspection, researchers also noticed the turtle rhythmically moving its throat.
After analyzing samples of the water, researchers soon discovered what was going on: the animal was releasing urea. In other words, it was 'peeing' from its mouth. This was a shocking discovery for more reasons than one. For instance, the majority of vertebrates expel urea through urine via the kidneys.
"These results indicate for the first time that [mouth tissue] processes and rhythmic [throat] movements were involved in urea excretion in P. sinensis," said Professor Ip Yeung Kwon.
The animals also expel waste through their cloaca, the orifice most species of turtle use for both waste removal and reproduction. So why expel waste through the mouth too? The trait is probably an adaptation for living in brackish water. This way, they can expel urea without having to drink too much salty water. When the water is too salty, they can just pass their waste by rinsing their mouth in this specialized way.
Chinese softshell turtles get their name from their flexible shells which lack any horny scales. This makes it easier for them to wallow around along muddy lake bottoms. They also have long, tube-like nostrils which allow them to snorkel along the surface of the water.
By Bryan Nelson