Last week I gave you this mystery object, which was hanging on the wall in a cocktail bar in Granada:
This is clearly a Testudine (AKA a tortoise or turtle), but there are over 350 species, so there’s a bit of work still to do. However, this one has some pretty distinctive features in the three well-defined keels on the carapace and well developed serrations on its rear margin.
There are a few species that have some similarities in their carapace, including the Alligator Snapping Turtle – as suggested by E on Twitter – but the finer details of the scutes and carapace keel shapes suggest it’s something else.
The fairly steep convergence of the external keels towards the midline at the front of the carapace is quite distinctive and the relatively smooth overlapping scutes in the forward section, but more jagged scutes to the rear ring a bell for me.
I think this is the carapace of a Keeled Box Turtle AKA Jagged Shelled-turtle AKA Mouhot’s Turtle Cuora mouhotii Gray, 1862. Several other people (like Chris, Allen Hazen, the SMG Collections Team and Colin McCarthy) seem to have agreed, both in the comments on the blog and on Twitter.
This species is from Southeast Asia and, due to a variety of pressures from the pet trade, collecting for food and habitat loss it’s now endangered, particularly in Vietnam. I’m not sure how this specimen managed to end up on the wall of a Spanish cocktail bar, but my guess would be that it either came in as a holiday souveneir from a visit to Southeast Asia or from an animal that came into the country via the pet trade.
This is one of those species that I have a bit of a soft spot for, due to the general weirdness of the skull. That does however make it quite recognisable as a specimen, even in a photo that hasn’t been taken for the purposes of identification – like this one.
Everyone who commented recognised that this is some sort of turtle, and thanks to that very flat skull with all the features towards the very front end, most people worked out that it’s a from a Mata-mata Chelus sp. Duméril, 1806.
As I suspected, everyone figured out that this is the skull of an Alligator Snapping Turtle, but things have become a bit more complicated than they used to be over the last decade, since the single species that used to be in the genus Macrochelys has since been split.
The amount of splitting has varied, but at the moment it seems to have settled on two species being recognised; Macrochelys temminckii (Troost, 1835) and Macrochelys suwanniensis Thomas et al., 2014.
One of the key diagnostic features identified to differentiate between them is the angle of the squamosal (the bit of bone with the arrow pointing it above). In M. temminckii the angle is greater than 90° whereas in M.suwanniensis it’s less than 90°.
That suggests to me that the Dead Zoo specimen is probably the Suwannee Snapping Turtle Macrochelys suwanniensis Thomas et al., 2014. The only problem with this identification is that the collection locality is simply “Mississippi”, which doesn’t fit with the Suwannee river distribution of the species.
I’ll need to go back and look at a few other skeletal characters to confirm the identification once I’m back in the Dead Zoo, but my guess is simply that the collection locality wasn’t accurately recorded, since the specimen came from the natural history supplier Edward Gerrard rather being collected and properly documented by a researcher.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a representative locality has been given for a specimen meant for display or teaching rather than research!