Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Turtles: Ageless yet Endangered

Turtles don't just live a long time (perhaps 250 years for some species), but scientists now understand they barely age at all. What they don't understand is why.
According to Dr. Christopher Raxworthy of the American Museum of Natural History, the organs of a century-old turtle are virtually indistinguishable from those of a teenage specimen. He says, “Turtles don’t really die of old age."
Part of the reason is that turtles - somehow - can turn their heart off when it's not needed. The Smithsonian's Dr. George Zug (a delightful fellow who I interviewed on cryptozoology back in 1988) told writer Natalie Angier, “Their heart isn’t necessarily stimulated by nerves, and it doesn’t need to beat constantly. They can turn it on and off essentially at will.”
The turtle's only problem is us. Of the 250-odd species, perhaps half are in some level of difficulty. Some, like the giant leatherback of the seas, may be headed for extinction. It's important to save the turtles of the world: not just for their own sakes, but for what they might be able to teach us.
THANKS for this article to Kris Winkler.

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