Turtle-cow Hybrids?

Hybrids out of History

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EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS

     
A diligent scholar is like a bee who takes honey from many different flowers and stores it in his hive.
John Amos Comenius

Note: Any claim that hybrids can be produced from this highly disparate cross would require confirmation.

Two turtle-cow hybrids were reported on page 3, columns 4 and 5, of the October 28, 1902, issue of the Evening Times-Republican, a newspaper published in Marshalltown, Iowa (source). The following is a transcript of the report:

A Freak Cow

Special to the Times-Republca.
    Waterloo, Oct. 28.—Circus men and museum managers will be after a cow owned by Nicholas Apple, east of Gilbertsville, when her wonderful freak-bearing record is made public. A year ago she gave birth to a calf bearing a mud turtle’s head. The calf was dead, and while it was looked upon as a strange freak of nature no mention was made of the fact beyond the neighborhood. She has now given birth to a second calf more wonderful than the other. The head is precisely that of a turtle, and, stranger still, the back is covered with the same horny shell that grows on a turtle. The calf was dead as in the case of the first, but the skin, head and hoofs were saved and will be placed in some museum.
    
Note: It has been my policy in listing reports of hybrids to include all serious allegations, especially those of scholars, whether or not the hybrid alleged seems possible or likely to me. This policy, I think, helps to eliminate subjective judgment on my part, and therefore should remove at least one source of systematic bias from my work. It also helps to fulfill the ethical obligation of telling not just the truth, but the whole truth.

So what are we to think of this bizarre report? If it’s correct, then a calf could not acquire the characteristics of a turtle out of thin air. It would have been necessary for the mother cow to somehow mate with a turtle. The report specifically refers to the first calf having “a mud turtle’s head.” But even a mating between a mud turtle and a cow, let alone the production of an actual hybrid, seems highly improbable. Mud turtles are tiny. The Yellow Mud Turtle (Kinosternon flavescens) native to Iowa, so that is only 4 to 6 in (10.2 to 15.2 cm) long. So it seems a Herculean task for one of these little fellows to mate with a cow even once, let alone twice.

It is, however, known that some types of small animals, such as hares and small dogs, will mount cows and mate with them when they are lying down. Perhaps, then, a larger type of turtle might be able to do the deed? A native Iowan turtle that would perhaps be large enough to carry out the physical act of such a mating is the Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina). The heaviest wild-caught specimen of C. serpentina reportedly weighed 75 lb (34 kg). So, conceivably, a large male snapper might just be able to mount a suitably docile cow in a prone position. But the question remains whether such a mating might produce hybrids, even stillborn hybrids such as those reported.

The mere fact that this cross is so distant would be enough to convince many people that it is impossible and that the report above must be a mistake or hoax. After all, cattle and turtles belong to two different vertebrate classes, Class Mammalia and Class Reptilia, respectively. However, there is, in fact, quite a bit of evidence that interclass crosses do occasionally occur.

There is also a report from Tennessee about a turtle-sheep hybrid. And there are even reports about turtle-human hybrids.

sheep-pig hybrid Sheep-pig hybrids?

Table of contents >>

Bibliography >>

Biology Dictionary >>

By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).


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