Singaporean scientists have discovered a turtle that pees through its mouth!
A team of researchers from the National University and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has discovered a unique turtle that pees through its mouth. Professor Alex Yuen Kwong Ip headed the research, which revealed the first animal on earth to urinate in this way.
Scientists previously assumed that the finger like protrusions inside the mouth of the Chinese soft-shelled turtle acted like gills, enabling the animal to breathe under water.
Mostly, this soft-shelled turtle spends time under water in marshes and swamps. Therefore, the theory that the gill-like features inside their mouths were simply for breathing under water made sense. But Ip was curious as to why the Pelodiscus Sinensis would still need to dip its head into puddles of water for extended periods of time while it was going through a period of land-dwelling.
After all, this turtle had lungs which enabled it to breathe also like a land animal. Ip also noticed that while the turtles had their heads submerged, they were not ingesting water, they were merely wiggling their heads.
Together with researcher Shit Fun Chew, Ip bought live turtles from a market to study. This particular turtle is a Chinese delicacy, so readily available for purchase. Chew and Ip initially kept the turtles in a water tank with a tube attached to their cloaca. The researchers discovered that only 6% of the urea in the water was coming from their cloaca.
Where was the rest of the urea coming from?
Next, the scientists kept the turtles in an enclosure and provided them with a bucket of water. The turtles would spend between 20 and 100 minutes with their heads submerged in the water in the buckets.
When Chew and Ip observed what they did with their heads in the buckets, they noticed that the turtles would hold water in their mouths for short period, and then spit it out again. When the researchers measured for urea in the water, it had substantially increased.
The Chinese soft-shelled turtle has a unique gene that causes a protein to express within their mouths that expels urea. This protein exists instead in the kidneys of other animals. Ip explains that the turtle likely evolved in this way to enable it to survive in the brackish water in swamps and marshes.
Discovery could help humans
The scientists who made this discovery hope that this has positive ramifications for people who suffer kidney failure. By analyzing the gene involved, researchers may be able to develop an alternative solution to kidney dialysis.