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New Species Of Turtle Is Discovered In Alabama

NOEL KING, HOST:

In Alabama, a big discovery was made recently...

PETER SCOTT: People call it the intermediate musk turtle or aliflora (ph) musk turtle.

KING: ...A turtle. That is Peter Scott. He's a postdoc researcher at UCLA, and we talked to him on Skype about his turtle discovery.

SCOTT: It's a small turtle, about 3 or 4 inches long as an adult. They kind of have chocolate-colored shells with darker markings on them. They have a beautifully spotted head and kind of a striped neck. They are kind of puggish-like little turtles.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I think they sound kind of cute, don't they?

KING: (Laughter).

GREENE: So Scott pointed out that the intermediate musk turtle is not necessarily a new species. Scientists used to think it was a hybrid of two other species, the striped-neck musk turtle and the loggerhead musk turtle.

KING: Yes, but Scott's research found something else.

SCOTT: The turtles in the Choctawhatchee and Escambia River basins are their own evolutionary entity, and there is no hybridization at all between any of these groups.

KING: But he has an idea as to how these three species of musk turtles might have evolved.

SCOTT: At one time, there was a large population of musk turtles across the southeastern United States, and then as different climatic events influenced the region, they all became isolated from each other and separated into kind of three species that were independent from each other.

GREENE: And who knew? Who knew that Alabama is prime real estate for all kinds of turtles?

SCOTT: Alabama actually has more species of turtles than anywhere else in the U.S. A lot of different eco regions come into contact in Alabama. So the northern part of the state, you have Appalachian Uplands. You have the Mobile Basin draining into the Gulf. And this kind of combination of diverse ecosystems really cater to then an incredible amount of diversity as far as the organisms that are found there.

GREENE: He says the research that led him to finding this new species of turtle took a good deal of time, proving that slow and steady does indeed win the race. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: December 25, 2017 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous version of the Web introduction for this story incorrectly referred to turtles as amphibians. Turtles are reptiles.
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