New Endangered Species List Includes 'Punk Rock' Turtle, Other 'Weird Reptiles'

A punk rock–looking turtle that breathes through its genitals, a blind snake and a tiny chameleon are among the world's most endangered species.

Researchers have created a list of "weird reptiles" that will need help from conservationists if they want to avoid going extinct—a list that defines the creatures on it by both their extinction risk and how unique their features have become through evolution, according to Imperial College London. The ranks include classic characters like the leatherback sea turtle, the largest in the world, and more obscure members like the Mary River turtle, which sports tufts of green hair and can use its reproductive organs to breathe when it stays underwater for long periods of time.

"Just as with tigers, rhinos and elephants, it is vital we do our utmost to save these unique and too often overlooked animals," Rikki Gumbs, an Imperial College London researcher, said in the university's statement. A lot of the reptiles on the list "are the sole survivors of ancient lineages, whose branches of the tree of life stretch back to the age of the dinosaurs."

The Mary River turtle, which is found in one corner of Australia, has green hair and can breathe underwater through its genitals. Imperial College London

Even when an animal is designated as an endangered species, that does not mean it is automatically protected. In Mexico, for example, the large fish called totoaba and a small porpoise called the vaquita are both critically endangered and harvesting them is illegal—but authorities are still struggling to stop people from fishing and bycatching. In the case of the vaquita, circumstances are particularly dire: It is estimated that there are only a few dozen of them left alive in the wild.

In the United States, leatherbacks are listed as endangered species but a recent petition aimed to downgrade it simply to "threatened," which would affect restrictions on their harvest.

The new list of 100 unique but endangered species includes notes on how much "conservation attention" the animals are receiving.

All of the information is based upon a study researchers published in the journal PLOS One that collected and analyzed information about the species.

According to the list, posted on the website for the Zoological Society of London's EDGE of Existence program, the Mary River turtle—ranked 29th in urgency—receives "medium" conservation attention. It is found in Queensland, Australia.

There are numerous species that receive "very low" attention, such as the Madagascar blind snake, which resembles a worm and is critically endangered, and the gecko Paroedura lohatsara, whose species name translates to "beautiful head" and which is between 6 centimeters and 8 centimeters long.

"If we lose these species there will be nothing like them left on Earth," Gumbs said.