With a pig-like snout and a flat brown shell making it not too indistinguishable from a cowpat, you’d be forgiven for gasping on introduction. But the Chinese soft shell turtle’s strangest feature isn’t its appearance – it’s how it urinates.
Which is through its mouth.
You’re probably thinking “But Chinese soft shell turtle, that’s the same place you eat! Surely this is unhygienic, surely you’ve made a terrible mistake! What on Earth are you thinking, you flat freak of nature”
But hold that thought, they have their reasons.
So why does it pee through its mouth?
Just like us the Chinese soft shell turtle produces urine and needs a lot of water to do so. The problem is that unlike us the turtle lives in brackish water, which contains a lot of salts that the turtle has no time for.
Drinking this water would help them produce urine, but they’d then need to get rid of all the excess salts too. And like I said, the turtle has got no time for that. Instead of dealing with this, its been rather ingenious.
Its solution? Don’t drink the water, just gargle it.
The turtle takes in a mouthful of water, dissolves wastes into that mouthful of water producing it’s urine, and then bam. Spits it out. Forget people turning water into wine, the Chinese soft shell turtle turns water in urine. In it’s mouth!
While they can also use their kidneys and urinate through their rear end like you’d expect, for the most part it’s this mouth-urinating-madness.
And why do they look like cow pats?
Their flat, softer shells are much lighter and flexible then other turtle shells and this allows them to move more easily on both land and muddy riverbeds. This is important for the Chinese soft shell turtle because they’re purely carnivorous and are therefore constantly hunting for their food.
The cow pat look no doubt helps them camouflage too, because while gross, you’d never expect a cowpat to produce a neck and snatch you up.
So there’s your odd organisms fix, and I feel like it would be a wasted opportunity if I didn’t encourage you to go out and pursue your dreams after reading this. Because there are turtles out there with soft shells that pee out their mouth. And that means anything is possible.
Das, I., & Lakim, M. (2006). On the Distribution of Pelochelys cantorii on Borneo. Chelonian Conservation and Biology, 5(2), 323-325.
Ip, Y. K., Loong, A. M., Lee, S. M., Ong, J. L., Wong, W. P., & Chew, S. F. (2012). The Chinese soft-shelled turtle, Pelodiscus sinensis, excretes urea mainly through the mouth instead of the kidney. The Journal of experimental biology, 215(21), 3723-3733.