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Baska: bewitched by Batagur

In his fifty years at the British Museum of Natural History, John Edward Gray described 306 reptile species (1)(Uetz, 2010). It would appear that he was a classic “splitter”;  naming one species under several names. One group that benefitted from Gray’s nomenclatural creativity is the genus of six species of large river turtles, Batagur. When he named the genus, he gave no etymology and none has since been deduced, leaving the word without meaning other than being a genus of turtles.

This genus has been at the heart of scientific exploration of the 19th century and has seen the struggles of European colonisation of Asia. Members of the genus have been revered as the property of Royalty and most populations have been decimated through their harvest of adults and eggs. Batagur contains five of the twenty-five most endangered species in the world (TCC, 2011). Consequently, Batagur turtles have been the subject of innovative conservation breeding efforts, taxonomic and genetic analyses, and provide an intriguing case study for biogeography in terms of dispersal and speciation. 

Image source: @EsotiKaeWorld 
B. affinis, Southern River Terrapin
B. baska, Northern River Terrapin
B. borneoensis, Painted Terrapin
B. dhongoka, Three Striped Roofed Turtle
B. kachuga, Red Crowned Roofed Turtle
B. trivittata. Burmese Roofed Turtle

My own interest in turtles has taken me up Australia's east coast chasing long-necked turtles (genus Chelodina), studying the turtle trade in Cambodia (Holloway, 2000; Holloway, 2003a), work at the turtle rescue and rehabilitation centre in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam, spend time studying B. affinis in Cambodia (Holloway, 2003b), and Malaysia, and even to have contributed to the description of a new subspecies, of B. affinis (Praschag et al, 2008).

This blog is intended to explore the current knowledge of the genus Batagur and examine the many features that make these turtles beautiful and bewitching beasts.

Work cited:


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