'Extinct' Seychelles Turtle Species Never Existed, Scientists Say

By Staff Reporter on April 5, 2013 6:02 AM EDT

Arakan forest turtle
The mud turtle Pelusios seychellensis thought to be extinct never existed (representational image) (Photo: Creative Commons)

A species of Seychelles mud turtle that was thought to be extinct never existed, scientists have found.

A number of turtle species belonging to the island of Seychelles have become extinct as a result of human intervention. The Seychelles mud turtle Pelusios seychellensis was also thought to have become extinct. Only three specimens of the species were collected at the end of the 19th century and are currently kept at the Natural History Museum in Vienna and the Zoological Museum in Hamburg.

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The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the species as "extinct." 

Now, scientists at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Dresden have discovered based on genetic evidence that the Pelusios seychellensis species never really existed.

They carried out a DNA test on the original specimen from the museum in Vienna and found that they are not a separate species. The turtle is another species Pelusios castaneus that is commonly found in West Africa.

"The species Pelusios seychellensis has therefore never existed," Uwe Fritz, director of the Museum of Zoology at the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden, said in a statement.

"In fact, for a long time researchers were amazed that the supposed Seychelles turtles looked so deceptively similar to the West African turtles. But due to the great geographic distance, it was thought this had to be a different species, which is why the assumed Seychelles turtles were also described as a new species in 1906," he said.

Pelusios seychellensis is the second species from the Seychelles Island that have been removed from the list of native species. Last year, Fritz and his team confirmed that another mud turtle species (Pelusios subniger) that was thought to be endemic to Seychelles was actually introduced by man.

The details of the findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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