National Geographic : 1952 May
684 International News Photos by Bob Mulligan Siamese Sue Proves that Two Heads Are Not Always Better than One This twin-headed river turtle in the Fish and Wildlife Service Aquarium, Washington, D. C ., shows why such freaks, though not uncommon, rarely escape their natural enemies for long: each head controls the two legs on its side. Often the right head sounds "Retreat !" while the left orders an advance. Result: the turtle gets nowhere. Although Siamese Sue has a single blood stream, shell, and lower intestine, most other parts are dual. The heads often fight over food and seldom agree on a common objective. The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is hunted for its savory flesh (pages 679 and 682). One method is to dive into beds of sea grass in shallow water where the turtle feeds, seize it around the neck, and swim with it to the surface. There it is hauled on board a boat and turned on its back to complete its journey to market and the soup bowl.* The hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) furnishes the valuable tortoise shell, prized for fine combs, boxes, and inlays for fur niture ever since the Middle Ages (page 679). This shell is easily carved, yet durable, and is delightfully colored with streaks of golden yellow and rich brown. Modern Pace Too Fast for Turtles Turtles are reptiles of ancient and honorable lineage. Their fossil ancestors are found in rocks at least 175,000,000 years old. One of the largest fossil land turtles on record was dug out of rocks in northern India. It measured seven feet in length and three feet in height. Fossils show that, during the Age of Rep tiles, turtles flourished over the whole world except on the circumpolar icecaps; cold was apparently their only enemy. Their descend ants are found today on every continent and in almost every region not subjected to perpetual winter. The turtle has a considerable niche in mythology and folklore. Many Asian people believed that the earth itself rested on the back of a turtle. Ceremonial rattles made of dried turtle shells filled with pebbles figure in the rain dances of the Indians of our arid Southwest. Inoffensive and valuable for food, shells, and oil, turtles deserve their popularity. Turtles on the whole are nice people, but, like many other nice people, they cannot quite keep pace with our swift modern life, espe cially on the highways. The broad, clear space in the center of a good road exerts an irresistible attraction for turtles who wish to bask in the unobstructed rays of the sun. The next time you see one of these harm less but old-fashioned fellows attempting to cross the road in front of your car, slow up, if you please, and spare his life. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Capturing Giant Turtles in the Caribbean," by David D. Duncan, August, 1943; and "Certain Citizens of the Warm Sea," by Louis L. Mowbray, January, 1922.