White-throated Snapping Turtle What Turtle Breaths Through its Bum?

White-throated Snapping Turtle on log

Photo: White-throated Snapping Turtle

The white-throated snapping turtle (Elseya albagula), breathes through its bum (anus) by a process called cloacal respiration and can remain submerged for days at a time.

The white-throated snapping turtle grows to about 45cm in length and is Australia’s largest freshwater turtle. It can live for up to 100 years. This turtle is entirely aquatic, rarely coming to the surface or venturing ashore. It is an herbivore that feeds on aquatic plants, shoreline vegetation, algae and fruits.

Because this turtle acquires as much as 70% of its total oxygen requirement by cloacal respiration it needs well-oxygenated clear flowing water to survive. Unfortunately, its habitat which is a very small area of the Burnett, Mary and Fitzroy River areas in Queensland, Australia, is being progressively destroyed by dams which obstruct the free flow of river water and also cause silting of river banks on which it builds its hatcheries

What is Cloacal Respiration? Bum Breathing

The cloaca is the single rear opening to the outside to which the animal’s digestive, reproductive, and urinary organs are connected. Cloacal respiration is used by only a few animals such as the white-throated snapping turtle. It is the process by which water is sucked into the cloaca and oxygen extracted from it and then expelled. (See video)

Bum Breathing Explained Video

White-throated Snapping Turtle cloaca

The turtle cannot get the oxygen it requires from slow moving or stagnant water and as a consequence needs to surface and come ashore more frequently to gasp for fresh air. This exposes the animal to predators. White-throated snapping turtle hatchlings take about seven months to hatch. The turtles nests are frequently destroyed by foxes that dig up the nests and cattle which trample them.

The white-throated snapping turtle is in critical danger of becoming extinct.

Australian Animals — List of Native, Introduced, Endangered, Rainforest Fauna