For the second time in Tennessee Aquarium history, the institution welcomed a rare Keeled Box Turtle hatchling. Like many other Southeast Asian turtles, Keeled Box Turtles have been over-collected in the wild for food and the pet trade. Several conservation organizations are working to protect the remaining wild populations from illegal trade, while zoos and aquariums are building assurance populations so the species does not go extinct if these animals disappear in the wild. Currently the U.S. population of Keeled Box Turtles at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums is less than twenty animals, seven of which are at Tennessee Aquarium.
This baby was the only one to hatch out of seven eggs laid in July. The incubation time was 92 days at a toasty 82 degrees Farenheit and the tiny hatchling weighed just 0.41 oz (11.7 grams).
Photo credits: Bill Hughes / Tennessee Aquarium
The Tennessee Aquarium has one of the largest turtle collections on public display with more than 500 individuals representing seventy-five species. Their Senior Hereptologist, Bill Hughes, manages the Keeled Box Turtle Studbook and serves as the Species Survival Plan Coordinator for Spiny Turtles, Four-eyed Turtles, and Arakan Forest Turtles.
A tiny new face has Tennessee Aquarium herpetologists smiling. This is the Aquarium’s first successful hatching of a Keeled Box Turtle, Cuora mouhotii, a species that is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Unlike other endangered Turtles reared at the Aquarium this year, this recent addition was rather slow to venture into the world. “The spiny Turtles just come right out,” said senior herpetologist Bill Hughes. “But this Turtle seemed content to open one end of the egg and look out at the world from inside the shell. It stayed there for two days before emerging.”
Photo credit: Tennessee Aquarium
Keeled Box Turtles get their common names from the three raised ridges, or “keels” running the length of their shells. The edge of the shell has a number of sharp spikes near the tail. Their rugged appearance doesn’t match a tender start. This species tends to lay rather fragile eggs that are often crushed by the parents. Luckily this one was discovered by keepers before being damaged. “This baby Turtle hatched after an incubation period lasting 126 days,” said Hughes.
This species is native to China, India, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam. Like many other Southeast Asian Turtles, keeled box Turtles have been over-collected in the wild for food and the pet trade. Several conservation organizations are working to protect the remaining wild populations from illegal trade, while zoos and aquariums are working toward increasing assurance populations in human care. This assures that the species does not go extinct if these animals disappear in the wild. Currently the U.S. population of Keeled Box Turtles at accredited zoos and aquariums is fewer than 20 animals.
The Tennessee Aquarium has one of the largest turtle collections on public display with more than 500 individuals representing 75 species. The Aquarium now has six Keeled Box Turtles. There are three adults, one male and two females, this new baby and a pair of young Keeled Box Turtles on exhibit in the Turtle Gallery on level 2 of the River Journey building.
The Tennessee Aquarium’s collection of more than 500 Turtles from 75 different species got a boost with 21 babies from four species hatching this summer.
Aquarium senior herpetologist Bill Hughes reports eight Yellow-blotched Map Turtles hatched this year. This species is endemic to Mississippi. “They are declining in the wild because of habitat loss and are currently federally-protected,” Hughes said. The sex of these hatchlings depends on the incubation temperature. Aquarium experts are able to manage the temperature carefully to get an even number of male and female Yellow-blotched Map Turtles. This is critical for the long-term success of any Turtle breeding program.
Red-headed Amazon River Turtles
Seven endangered Red-headed Amazon River Turtles hatched this summer, as did three endangered Four-eyed Turtles. The Four-eyed Turtle gets its name from the false eye markings on the neck. The majority of the U.S. population of these Turtles is at the Tennessee Aquarium, the only zoo or aquarium currently breeding this species. “Critically endangered species, including many Asian species such as the Four-eyed Turtle, face a very real threat of disappearing in the wild,” said Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s curator of forests.
Finally, two Florida Chicken Turtles joined the baby boom at the Aquarium. This species is not threatened or endangered in the wild. They were once commonly sold in southern markets as food. The meat was said to “taste like chicken.” Collins says breeding success among these rather abundant Turtles can help other endangered species.
A trio of Gentoo Penguin chicks is delighting guests at the Tennessee Aquarium. Two chicks hatched on July 18 to different parents, and another chick hatched on July 30. All three are on exhibit, so aquarium visitors can see the parents caring for and feeding the chicks throughout the day.
Aquarium aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich says the first 30 days are critical for young birds, but all three are doing well under their parents’ care. “So far the parents are feeding well and the chicks are all very vocal, seem strong and are all moving around the nests, but they still have a long road ahead,” said Aldrich. She notes that the dynamic in the Penguin colony has changed with the chicks’ arrival. “The parents are very protective of the chicks and their nests, but even the birds without chicks are still very excited about what’s going on in the other nests,” she said.
Senior aviculturist Amy Graves notes that for now, the adults sit right on top of the Penguin chicks in the nest. “It’s just amazing to see such big birds sitting on such a tiny, fragile little chick in a rocky nest. They have to be so careful because one wrong move and they could injure the chick,” she said.
Photo Credit: Tennessee Aquarium Video Credit: Jane Corn
Tennessee Aquarium aviculturists (bird keepers!) have their hands full caring for a pair of Macaroni Penguin chicks. “These baby penguins are absolutely adorable with fuzzy flippers, oversized feet and pudgy little bellies,” said senior aviculturist Amy Graves. “They are portly, but that’s great. We like to see vocal chicks that spend a good part of their day begging their parents for food.”
The first baby was born on May 24th to parents Hercules and Shamrock. This is their first chick at the Aquarium and the parents appear to be very diligent, although they don’t share the same duties. “Hercules is the protector. He only feeds the chick about 10 percent of the time,” said aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich. “But he is constantly watching over the baby even when mom is in the nest.” Fortunately, Aldrich says Shamrock really has a strong feeding instinct that more than satisfies a very vocal, and very hungry chick. “Normally chicks will beg and beg for food, but I’ve actually seen her feed this chick so full that he just stops begging,” said Aldrich. “He’s like, I’ve had enough.” Aquarium guests can see this baby penguin near the center of the exhibit inside an acrylic “playpen” which keeps it from accidently going into the water before it grows large enough to do so safely.
Paulie and Chaos, the Macaroni pair that successfully raised “Pepper” - the Aquarium’s first-ever baby penguin, are in a backup area with their chick. Paulie was involved in a scuffle with at least one other male early in the breeding season. “Aggressive behavior among males is not uncommon while they are building nests, so this couple was moved to a backup area for what was supposed to be a short time,” said Aldrich. “But when Chaos laid her second egg in this backup area, we decided they were comfortable enough to stay there until we saw what would happen with the egg. Now it looks like they’ll stay here until this chick is big enough to go on exhibit.” Both of the parents get time with the rest of the colony to swim and then they head back to feed and tend to their chick. As proven parents, they continue to feed this chick well.
Senior aviculturist Amy Graves and aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich hold the Tennessee Aquarium’s two new macaroni penguin babies
Keepers will continue to monitor the progress of both chicks closely as there are still many potential pitfalls for young birds to overcome. But if they continue to progress as quickly as they’ve started, Aquarium guests might see them outside the nests in a few weeks. “We’ll begin supervised walkabouts with the other penguins when their swim feathers grow in,” said Graves. “But even then we’ll have to see how the other birds react to the newcomers.”
Now you can see the highly endangered baby Spiny Turtle at Tennessee Aquarium in action after reading all about them in our ZooBorn's Post on February 13. It's evident where this distinctive turtle gets it's name -- from the pointy, spiky-edged prongs on it's shell. In effect, it's likened to a walking pin cushion! It's also called a 'cog-wheel turtle'.
In the wild, Spiny Turtles usually live in the vicinity of small streams of south-east Asia. While their bony protrusions have been thought to act as armor from predators like snakes, as the turtle grows the edges get worn down, so that in adulthood, Spiny Turtles have a much smoother shell (as seen in the video below).
The gray-brown head and spots on the eyes and legs act as camoflage the turtle in it's natural leafy ground environment in the wild. Unfortunately the ability to hide well in it's habitat has not prevented huge numbers of turtles being caught for the food and pet trades, and in Indonesia the species is considered Critically Endangered, while populations elsewhere are also under threat.
The Tennessee Aquarium recently received a shipment of 10 wild-caught Alligator Pipefish. Among them were two pregnant males, one of which delivered a few babies upon arrival. Female Pipefish lay between 60 and 200 eggs on the abdomen of the male and he develops a thin membrane around them. His abdomen becomes soft and spongy, allowing the eggs to receive nutrients from him. Babies hatch after approximately 3 weeks and are about one centimeter in length. That's less than half the length of their father's snout! But this species grows rapidly, with males attaining a length of close to a foot and females being slightly smaller.
Pipefish have a prehensile tail like a seahorse that they use to hitch onto just about anything around them, including each other. They'll hang out in a backup area at the Aquarium until they are big enough to be placed on exhibit. In the wild, alligator pipefish (Signathoides biaculeatus) are found throughout the Indo-Pacific ocean.
Photo Credit: Tennessee Aquarium
Read more about these fascinating pipefish after the jump:
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.
For the past few weeks aquarists at the Tennessee Aquarium have been monitoring an egg mass which was laid by a cuttlefish pair born and reared at the Aquarium. Shortly after the eggs were removed from the exhibit and placed into a holding tank, tiny cuttlefish began hatching. Carol Haley, the Aquarium’s assistant curator of fishes, said, “The first day about 42 hatchlings appeared. Another 40 or so appeared the following day.”
The hatchlings, called cuttlets, are tiny replicas of their parents. Each individual is small enough to fit inside a quarter teaspoon. Once they emerge from the egg sac, they begin hunting. “They have a pretty big appetite and are ready to use their tentacles to snare the live mysid shrimp we feed them,” said Haley.
These babies are too small to be placed on exhibit like their parents. Right now they use their chromatophores to look like tiny pebbles in the bottom of the holding tank they’ll call home for the next few months. They also use another trick to avoid being a tiny treat for a predator. “Even at their small size they can produce ink,” said Haley. “They will ink more as feisty teenagers, usually when they reach about six months of age.”
When they are six to seven months old, they’ll be large enough to go on exhibit. Until then, Aquarium guests can see these miniature cuttlefish in the Quarantine Room during the 1:30 p.m. Backstage Pass Tour. “Cuttlefish babies are super cute as babies and people are still fascinated by them when they reach adulthood,” said Haley. “They might be the most adorable ‘sea monsters’ you’ll ever see.”
This month two rare baby turtles have give staffers at the Tennessee Aquarium two more reason to celebrate World Turtle Day on Monday May 23.
"A spiny turtle hatched on May 1st and last week a four-eyed turtle hatched,” said Bill Hughes, Tennessee Aquarium senior herpetologist. “Both species are considered endangered in the wild.”
Spiny turtles have shells with distinctive pointed edges and are sometimes known as cogwheel turtles. The Tennessee Aquarium, Knoxville Zoo, Tulsa Zoo and Zoo Atlanta are the only public institutions in the United States to have successfully bred this species. This new spiny baby will remain off-exhibit until it gets a little bigger, but guests can view a rather small spiny turtle hatched in 2009 in the Turtle Gallery on Level 2 of the River Journey building.
Four-eyed turtles get their name from the ocelli, or false eye markings that occur on the back of the head. The current U.S. zoo population of this species consists of the 28 individuals at the Tennessee Aquarium and one male at the Charles Paddock Zoo in California. “Adult males and females have different ocelli patterns,” said Hughes. “This baby’s head pattern is similar to a female’s, but so far all of the ones we’ve hatched have had the same pattern.” This hatchling will also remain off-exhibit until it gets a little larger, but guests can view two hatchlings from 2009 in the Turtle Gallery nursery tanks.
Like many Southeast Asian turtle species, spiny turtles and four-eyed turtles have been overharvested in the wild for food and traditional medicine trade. Successful breeding programs such as the Aquarium’s help maintain assurance populations in case numbers of their wild counterparts fail to rebound. Collins encourages Aquarium visitors to explore the exhibits at a turtle’s pace to appreciate the special adaptations and extremes in form of each species. Said Collins, “When people develop an awareness and appreciation for these remarkable animals they’re more likely to help protect them.”