Turtle & Tortoise

Threatened Ornate Box Turtles Hatch in Chicago

1_Ornate Box Turtle-6 (©Chicago Zoological Society)

The last of 26 Ornate Box Turtles hatched at Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo, in Chicago, this past week, as part of an effort to restore native populations in Western Illinois. The hatchlings come from nine different clutches provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).

“Each year we learn more about Ornate Box Turtles and their preferred temperature for incubation and what conditions best enable them to grow before returning to their native habitat,” said Diane Mulkerin, curator for Lincoln Park Zoo. “The collaboration among conservation organizations enables us to take the head-start program one step further by increasing the number of turtles we re-introduce each year.”

2_Ornate Box Turtle-7 (©Chicago Zoological Society)

3_Ornate Box Turtle-1 (©Chicago Zoological Society)

4_Ornate Box Turtle-4 (©Chicago Zoological Society)Photo Credits: CZS/Brookfield/Chicago Zoological Society (Images: 1 - 6);Lincoln Park Zoo/Christopher Bijalba (Images: 7 - 12)The turtles will remain at their respective zoos for the next several months where they can thrive without the threat of predation or disease. Once the animals grow both in size and strength, they will be re-introduced into sand prairies protected by the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Savannah, Illinois.

“We’re thrilled to be working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Lincoln Park Zoo on this hatch and head-start program for the Illinois state-listed threatened Ornate Box Turtle,” said Andy Snider, curator of herps and aquatics for the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo. “Assisting in cooperative conservation projects for local species, such as this, is one of many ways zoos can contribute to the overall health and welfare of wild populations.”

The Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) is one of only two terrestrial species of turtles native to the Great Plains of the United States. It is one of the two different subspecies of Terrapene ornata, and it is the state reptile of Kansas.

The Ornate Box Turtle is listed as “Threatened” in the state of Illinois, and it is a protected species in six Midwestern states: Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, and Wisconsin. The IUCN Red List classifies the species as “Near Threatened”.

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Tiny Endangered Turtles Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium

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In a sunny space directly under one of the Tennessee Aquarium’s tallest glass peaks, senior herpetologist Bill Hughes is caring for a special group of Southeast Asian turtles. The aquarium's ten adult Beal’s-eyed Turtlesare members of a vanishing species.

This past summer, five more Beal’s-eyed Turtles hatched, a significant conservation milestone for this species.

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Photo credits: Tennessee Aquarium

The aquarium's first Beal's-eye Turtle, hatched in 2007, made big headlines because it was also the first of its species known to hatch in a North American zoo or aquarium. Other hatchlings followed at the aquarium in 2008 and 2013. In the past two years, they have had eight more hatchlings - three in 2014 and the five tiny turtles that appeared this summer.

This species has been listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) since 2000. 

“Their numbers have continued to rapidly decline over the past 15 years,” said Hughes. “The current recommendation is to update their status to Critically Endangered.” 

Such a move would officially mean that these animals face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future. So adding even a few individuals to the global population is a big step toward ensuring this species does not vanish forever.

Continue reading after the fold.

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Little Giants Come Out Of Their Shells

Baby Malaysian Giant Pond Turtle-0005-6886Four rare Turtles have come out of their shells at the Houston Zoo!  These Malaysian Giant Pond Turtles are not often seen in zoos due to their large size and low rate of reproduction in captivity.

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Baby Malaysian Giant Pond Turtle-0002-6434
Baby Malaysian Giant Pond Turtle-0004-6878Photo Credit:  Stephanie Adams/Houston Zoo

Getting out of a shell can be tough work but baby turtles have a special adaptation on their snout: an egg tooth. Also called a caruncle, the egg tooth is a temporary structure that is used to cut through the egg membrane and break through the shell.  Once there is a hole in the egg, the turtle can break out.

The zoo’s journey to this remarkable hatching began when they acquired a group of juvenile Malaysian Giant Pond Turtles in 2002.  The Turtles have reached maturity, and these hatchlings are the result.

At the Houston Zoo, this species inhabits the moat surrounding the Orangutan exhibit, but the Turtles are very secretive and not often seen.  They feed on fish, plants, and fruits.

Malaysian Giant Pond Turtles are found in rivers and lakes on the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, and Sumatra.  Adults can reach almost three feet in length and can weigh over 100 pounds. Listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Malaysian Giant Pond Turtles are heavily exploited for their meat, and populations are in decline throughout their native range.

See more photos of the Turtles below.

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Baby Tortoise Will Grow Up Flat As a Pancake

Baby pancake!!

A baby Tortoise hatched on April 4 at the Como Zoo will grow up to be as flat as a pancake – but that’s exactly what this species, called the Pancake Tortoise, is supposed to be.

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Pancake quarterPhoto Credit:  Como Zoo

In their native homes of Kenya and Tanzania, Pancake Tortoises’ flat shells allow them to escape predators by squeezing into tight crevices among rocks.  Their shells are extra flexible, and these reptiles are remarkably good climbers.  The combination of flexibility, speed, and agility is key to Pancake Tortoises’ survival. 

Como Zoo’s little hatchling began as an egg laid in October 2014.  Zoo staff incubated the egg for 170 days at 88 degrees Fahrenheit in hopes of producing a female because Pancake Tortoise gender is determined by incubation temperature. Now the size of a golf ball, the hatchling will grow to about six inches in length and weigh about one pound as an adult. This is the first Pancake Tortoise to hatch at the Como Zoo.

Though they are protected in both Kenya and Tanzania, Pancake Tortoises are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to collection for the pet trade and loss of native habitat to agricultural use.  The Como Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan for Pancake Tortoises to sustain a genetically viable zoo population.  

Baby Turtles Saved From Illegal Trafficking

10872821_10152902873899178_5903419042370506900_oEight baby Turtles confiscated from wildlife traffickers are safe in their new home at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

10429310_10152902875009178_7858583633860942406_nPhoto Credit:  National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

The young Wood, Blanding’s, and Loggerhead Musk Turtles are part of a shipment of more than 200 hatchlings intercepted by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).  The Turtles were bound for export to China, where they would feed the demand for Turtle meat, exotic pets, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Thousands of Turtles and Tortoises are sold illegally every day in markets throughout China and Southeast Asia.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, states that up to 50 percent of Asian Turtle species are now Endangered, and that number is rising.  In fact, Tortoises and freshwater Turtles are the most threatened of any major group of terrestrial (land-dwelling) vertebrates – more than mammals, birds, or amphibians.

Visit the USFWS website to learn more about how illegal wildlife trafficking threatens species around the globe.

Ornate Box Turtles Hatch at Lincoln Park Zoo


Eleven Ornate Box Turtles hatched at Lincoln Park Zoo, in Chicago, this week! The hatchlings are part of an effort to restore the native populations of turtles to their natural sand prairie habitat in Western Illinois, where they will return next summer. The hatchlings come from three different clutches provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).



091114_MH_OrnateBox_41Photo Credits: Lincoln Park Zoo, Mark Hollander

“Every single hatchling is a success for the population,” said Diane Mulkerin, Lincoln Park Zoo curator. “Each animal represents being one step closer to restoring the natural grasslands and prairies in Illinois, which is necessary for the ecosystem to flourish.”

The turtles will remain at the zoo for the next several months where they can thrive without the threat of predation or disease. Once the animals grow both in size and strength, they will be re-introduced into grasslands and sand prairies protected by the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Savannah, Ill.

Lincoln Park Zoo participates in re-introduction programs for Smooth Green Snakes, Meadow-Jumping Mice in Illinois as well as Red Wolves, Trumpeter Swans, Guam Rails and other threatened and endangered species across the U.S.

See more great photos below the fold!

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Rare Turtle Hatches at Bristol Zoo

IMG_8998One of the world’s rarest Turtles has hatched at the United Kingdom’s Bristol Zoo Gardens. The tiny, six-week-old Vietnamese Box Turtle weighs just half an ounce (14.6g) and is around the size of a matchbox. DSC_8262

DSC_8498Photo Credit:  Brsitol Zoo Gardens

The Turtle is so precious that it is being kept behind the scenes in a climate-controlled quarantine room. Once it is old enough, the hatchling will join the six adult Box Turtles in the zoo’s Asian Turtle breeding room.

The Turtle hatched after being kept at a constant temperature in an incubator for 85 days. Tim Skelton, curator of reptiles, has cared for Turtles for over 40 years. He said, “This is a very difficult species to breed so I am thrilled with the arrival of this baby; it comes after a lot of hard work.”

It is the second time the zoo has bred this critically endangered species, which it has kept for 12 years. The zoo’s first Vietnamese Box Turtle hatched in 2012 and is doing very well, thriving on a diet of snails, worms and chopped fruit. Bristol Zoo is thought to be just the second zoo in Europe to have ever bred the species.

Tim added, “Little is known about this species so we can learn an awful lot from this baby to improve our chances of breeding more in the future. These are secretive animals so we are keeping it in a warm, humid and quiet room with a constant temperature, in an enclosure to replicate its natural habitat where it can burrow among the soil and leaves.”

An adult Box Turtle weighs around two pounds (one kg), measures around eight inches (20cm) long, and can live for about 50 years.

Box Turtles are mainly terrestrial, although they will enter shallow water to hunt and soak.

They are hunted for their meat, for use in traditional medicines or as pets, and have been listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Bristol Zoo is working with the Turtle Conservation Centre in Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam. This year funds were donated to update their breeding facilities, helping them continue to safeguard this species in its home country.


Endangered Turtle Hatches at Fort Wayne Children' Zoo

IMG_0471adjThe Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s newest baby may be small, but the tiny Black-breasted Leaf Turtle could play an important role in saving an endangered species.

IMG_0498adjPhoto Credit:  Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

The teensy terrapin hatched on May 10 after a 75-day incubation.  At three weeks old, it weighed just over six grams (about the same weight as a quarter).  Black-breasted Leaf Turtles in zoos are managed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).  For now, zoo keepers are caring for the hatchling behind-the-scenes and monitoring its progress carefully, feeding it fruit, vegetables, crickets, and worms. 

Why are Black-breasted Leaf Turtles endangered?  It all comes down to habitat destruction and over-collection in their native range of Southeast Asia.  These Turtles are collected for use in Traditional Asian Medicine, and are often sold as pets. Their unique facial expressions, scallop-edged shells, and small size make them particularly attractive within the pet trade.   Black-breasted Leaf Turtles live up to 20 years but only reach an average length of five inches, making them one of the smallest Turtles in the world.

Teeny Tortoises Have Big Conservation Impact

WST-3Four Western Swamp Tortoises hatched at Australia’s Adelaide Zoo may be small, but they are extremely important to the future of this critically endangered reptile species.

WST-4Photo Credit:  Zoos SA

The first of the Tortoises hatched on March 28, but the three remaining eggs hatched over a three-day period from May 13-15.  It is not unusual for Western Swamp Tortoises to remain in the egg, fully developed, until the right weather conditions are present for hatching.

Zoo staff report that the baby Tortoises are developing well and feast regularly on their favorite foods – brine shrimp and mosquito larvae.

In the wild, these small Tortoises live in fresh water and rarely weigh more than one pound (500g) as adults. 

With these four hatchlings, Adelaide Zoo now holds fifteen Western Swamp Tortoises.  In the wild, these reptiles are found in just two reserves in Western Australia - Ellen Brook Reserve and Twin Swamp Reserve.  Only about 200 of these Tortoises are thought to remain in these areas.  Adelaide Zoo and Perth Zoo work together to reintroduce the species to the wild and many of the zoo’s Tortoises will be released into their native habitat.

See more Tortoise photos below the fold.

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National Aquarium’s Turtle Hatchlings are the First Ever Born in Any Zoo

1596714_10151934440186174_1920856150_oEight Northern Australian Snapping Turtles hatched at the National Aquarium this winter are the first of this species ever hatched in captivity.


Photo Credit:  National Aquarium

The excitement began in September, when the aquarium’s female turtle laid her eggs.  The staff immediately gathered the eggs and placed them in an incubator, where they were closely monitored.  On the morning of February 14, the first hatchling emerged from its egg!  Since then, seven other little turtles have hatched.

Aquarium staff have observed healthy behaviors in all the hatchlings, including swimming and basking in open areas.  The hatchlings will remain behind the scenes until they are large enough to move into exhibits.  At hatching, the turtles weighed less than one ounce (24 g).  As adults, they will weigh more than 11 pounds (5 kg).  

The National Aquarium is the only aquarium in the United States to exhibit this species.