Alabama is big on turtles.
The state has somewhere around three dozen distinct varieties of the aquatic creatures, which are protected by state law. The authors of the book "Turtles of Alabama" say the state has more turtle species than any in the union.
Well, it's time to add one more to that list.
Peter Scott, a post-doctoral scholar from the University of California at Los Angeles, was trying to identify whether two species of Alabama turtles were hybridizing, reported BhamNow. That would mean two species, the logger-head musk turtle and the stripe-necked turtle, were mating and creating a different, hybrid species.
Hybrids are born when different species mate and have offspring. The babies are often sterile, so the new species don't tend to spread. Some well known types of hybrids are the mule (a donkey and a mare) and the liger (between a male lion and female tiger).
But while doing his research, Scott realized that the species he was looking at, which he thought was a hybrid of the other two turtles, was in fact an entirely separate species - the intermediate musk turtle.
"It's a small turtle, about 3 or 4 inches long as an adult. They kind of have chocolate-colored shells with darker markings on them. They have a beautifully spotted head and kind of a striped neck. They are kind of puggish-like little turtles," Scott told NPR.
Scott told NPR he believed there used to be musk turtles all over the southern U.S., but changes in the climate began isolating the turtles, and they evolved into different species. "Alabama actually has more species of turtles than anywhere else in the U.S. A lot of different eco regions come into contact in Alabama," he told the station.
Scott told BhamNow he never expected to describe a new turtle. "I really came to this with an open mind. I thought all the previous biologist were correct," he told the site. "It's good to know that we can describe new animals in our backyards, it reminds us why we need to be conscientious to what we are doing to our environment."
The turtle can be found in the greater Choctawhatchee River and Escambia River basins, BhamNow reported.