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Tiny Spiny Turtle Hatchling at the Tennessee Aquarium


Big news at the Tennessee Aquarium: A highly endangered spiny turtle (Heosemys spinosa) hatched over last weekend of February 4 from a single egg that was incubated at 82 degrees for about 105 days. This latest hatchling is only about 5 cm long and weighs 37 grams.

According to Tennessee Aquarium senior herpetologist Bill Hughes, this tiny turtle is a big success story for a species on the brink of extinction in the wild. "Captive breeding of this species is still an uncommon event, with only three other U.S. zoos having success," Hughes said.  "However, we have worked carefully with these animals and have had 13 spiny turtles to hatch at the Aquarium since 2007."

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has listed this species as Critically Endangered in Indonesia, and Endangered in other parts of its range. Over-collecting these animals in the wild has led to the demise of these rather amazing turtles. Hatchlings like this one, and others in this special management program, represent the last hope if this species vanishes in the wild. So each rare turtle hatchling is worth celebrating.

Photo Credit: Bill Hughes

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Spiny turtles, like many other threatened or endangered species, are part of a cooperative management program in progress among Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited (AZA) institutions. Hughes maintains the records for this species management plan.

These turtles get their common name from the spikes surrounding the edge of their shells. Spiny turtles are also sometimes called cog-wheel turtles because of their jagged appearance which is most pronounced when first hatched. According to Hughes, the saw-blade carapace edge becomes rather smooth as these turtles age.