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STEM + animals – discover ‘bum-breathing turtles’ for a living!

STEM + Animals

Want your future career to be filled with new discoveries, lots of important research and adorable creatures? A STEM + animals path could be the one for you

Here’s a fun example of how awesome a STEM + animals gig can be! A group of Burnett Mary Regional Group (BMRG) scientists have just discovered critically endangered white-throated snapping turtles in Queensland’s Baffle Creek for the first time.

They made the discovery of three turtles while assessing the waterway as part of the Australian Government’s Emergency Flood Recovery project for wildlife and habitat.

Until now, it was thought this snapping turtle (which has been dubbed the ‘bum-breathing turtle’ because it can absorb oxygen through its anus while submerged!) only lived in the the Fitzroy, Burnett and Mary Rivers.

Tom Espinoza, the research director for BMRG, says, “The significance of finding three of the turtles is there’s potentially a self-sustaining population of a critically endangered species. It extends the area we now know the species inhabits and genetically it could be very important.”

The next steps for the scientists will include comprehensive sampling, genetic analysis
and risk assessment.

“It’s potentially an important research population to look at how a species behaves in
its natural environment,” says Tom. “Turtles are extremely important in rivers. They’re the vacuum cleaner of a watercourse; they clean up decomposing organic material and help to maintain good water quality. They’re also a totem for local First Nations people.”

What the scientists loved about this work

Benjamin Hoekstra, BMRG project officer. Image via BMRG.

Benjamin Hoekstra, BMRG project officer

“Pulling in the first net and seeing the size of the large female turtle we had caught was exhilarating. It wasn’t until we started to process all the turtles, identifying the species and taking measurements did we start to realise the magnitude of catching three in this stretch of creek. It’s a highlight of my professional career and a moment that will resonate with me for quite some time.”

Sydney Collett, BMRG project officer

Sydney Collett, BMRG project officer. Image via BMRG.

“It certainly was a highlight to see not only one white-throated snapping turtle, but three! Males and females, all looking incredibly healthy. It gives me hope that they are recovering, increasing distribution and are doing well. Often you don’t hear the success stories in conservation, particularly with critically endangered species, but it’s great to be a part of this good news.”

STEM + animals careers

If the above sounds like something you’d like to be doing for your future 9-5, have a think about the following career paths:

  • Research scientist
  • Research director
  • Marine biologist
  • Taxonomist
  • Wildlife biologist
  • Entomologist (studies bugs)
  • Ornithologist (studies birds)
  • Herpetologist (studies reptiles and amphibians)
  • Ichthyologist (studies fish)
  • Nematologist (studies round worms)

To get the job done, you’ll need solid skills in:

  • Researching
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Criticial thinking
  • Time management
  • Organisation

RELATED: Quiz – What’s your animal science job?


STEM + animals role models

Got your STEM + X sorted? Then check out some of the STEM + animals role models we’ve profiled. We’ve spoke to animal, marine and wildlife biologists, vets, ecologists, entomologists and more to find out how they landed their cool jobs and what advice they have for people who want to follow in their footsteps. Find their stories here.

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