Why Do Some Turtles 'Breathe' Out of Their Butts?

June 17, 2014 4:12 PM

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Nature has a juvenile sense of humor. That, at first, seems like the only explanation for why certain turtles, among them the Australian Fitzroy river turtle and the North American eastern painted turtle, breathe through the back end. Both turtles can breathe through their mouths if they so chose.

And yet, when scientists placed a small amount of food coloring in the water near these turtles, they found that the turtles were drawing in water from both ends (and sometimes just the hind end.) Technically, this hind end isn't an anus, it's a cloaca — an opening through which the turtle excretes,...

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