An exceptionally rare golden turtle that was found in the Dhanushadham Municipality of Nepal’s Dhanusha District has been compared to the incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. The species is called Lissemys punctata andersoni and it is believed that it’s only the fifth time in history that a golden turtle from that specific species has ever been discovered. Additionally, it is the first time ever that it has been found in Nepal.
Its special color was the result of an extremely rare genetic mutation that affected its pigmentation causing it to turn golden. The condition that caused a loss of color pigmentation is called chromatic leucism which normally causes the skin to turn very pale or even white. However, that’s not what happened this time as it created xanthophores which are cells with a large amount of yellow pigmentation that caused the turtle to turn a golden color.
And its rare golden color also has a religious significance. “Not only golden animals but turtles overall have significant religious and cultural value in Nepal,” explained reptile expert Kamal Devkota from the Nepal Toxinology Association and who documented the rare discovery.
He went on to say, “It is believed that Lord Vishnu took the form of a turtle to save the universe from destruction in his incarnation,” adding, “In Hindu mythology the upper shell of the turtle denotes the sky and lower shell denotes earth.” The Hindu god’s turtle avatar is named Kurma and is worshiped by many people in several temples across India.
Once the experts were finished studying the unique turtle, it was released back into the wild although they do worry that its color may cause it to have a disadvantage compared to other turtles. “For instance, a normal Lissemys punctata is much better camouflaged in the murky, greenish, aqueous environment the species frequents,” explained Mr. Devkota, adding, “Genetically driven conditions such as chromatic leucism would be exposed to intense negative selective pressure in nature.”
Nevertheless, this incredibly unique turtle is one astonishing discovery and Mr. Devkota said it best when he stated, “So, we can say that this is one unusual discovery!” Several pictures of this exceptionally rare turtle can be seen here.