100-Year-Old Turtle, the Last of Her Kind, Could Soon Be a Mom
by John R. Platt
I have written about a lot of causes of extinction over the years. Climate change. Disease. Overhunting. Pollution. The list goes on and on. Well here’s a new one that could end up on the list: a mangled penis.
Now, normally a single set of damaged sexual organs wouldn’t make
that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. But nothing
about the Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)
is normal. Only a single mated couple of this species remains anywhere
in the world.
The two massive turtles, each estimated at more than a
century old, have lived together in captivity at China’s Suzhou Zoo
since 2008. (Two other Yangtze turtles, both male, live in Vietnam.) Although they have engaged in mating behavior several times over the years, the female has never laid fertile eggs.
No one knows how long these two turtles will live, but time is
obviously of the essence. And so, with the clock ticking, scientists set
out to see why fertilization has not yet occurred. That meant finding
out if the male turtle still had viable sperm…
Consider the platypus. It’s a venomous mammal that lays eggs. It has a duck bill, a beaver tail, and otter feet. The platypus is an outlier: the sole living member of its genus. When the first specimen was sent to scientists, they thought it was a hoax.
The platypus is the Captain Planet of the animal kingdom: a force that combines these various heroic traits into something even more universe-defying than the sum of its parts. For all these reasons, it’s the animal we feel best embodies our new series of innovation awards.
The Platties honor ideas that are interdisciplinary: a bit duck, a bit beaver, a bit otter. These are the new ideas and innovations that made us do a double take. At first, we wondered whether they could be real. And when they proved to be, it wasn’t just the little idea, but the little idea’s enormous potential that delighted us.
This year, we honor innovations that use sound, twisting it in unexpected ways. The academics and artists you’ll meet below are changing how we relate to one another, to other species, to our environment, to our own bodies, and to our dinner. They’re working in the borderlands where traditional disciplines collide and where new disciplines are born.