Turtle & Tortoise

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.

Aldabra Giant Tortoises Start Out Small

2 tortoise (Sarah Floyd)

Nine Aldabra giant tortoises have hatched at Tulsa Zoo in Oklahoma! The hatchlings started to pip, or cut through their shells, on February 9. Several of the tortoise hatchlings are on now exhibit at the zoo. 

The hatchlings started out weighing a tiny 50 grams each, but they will get much bigger. Aldabra tortoises are the world's second largest tortoise species. The zoo has three adult males and two adult females. The adult male tortoises weigh nearly 400 pounds (181 kg), while the adult female tortoises weigh around 175 pounds (79 kg). Their ages range from 31 to more than 100 years old.

5 tortoise (Sarah Floyd)


4 tortoise (Aaron Goodwin)

1 tortoise (Sarah Floyd)

3 tortoise (Aaron Goodwin)

Photo credits: Tulsa Zoo / Sarah Floyd (1, 2, 4); Aaron Goodwin (3, 5)

The incubation period for these tortoises lasts from 95 to 120 days. Once the tortoises pip, it can take up to five days to fully emerge from the shell, and usually two to three more days before they are ready to be taken out of the incubator and placed on a substrate on exhibit. 

Aldabra tortoises live on the islands of the Aldabra atoll in the Seychelles. They are classified as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. 

Tulsa Zoo has now successfully hatched 109 Aldabra tortoises since it began its breeding program in 1999. The Tulsa Zoo is the only Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited institution that has an Aldabra tortoise breeding program, and the zoo is one of only two U.S. institutions to currently breed this species. Their first Aldabra tortoise hatchling emerged from its egg in the winter of 1999 and they have continued to collect fertile eggs every two to three years since that time. 

Endangered Chinese Big-headed Turtles Hatch at Prospect Park Zoo

1 turtle

Five Chinese Big-headed Turtles have hatched at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Prospect Park Zoo in New York City. These turtles, hatched in November, are the first to be successfully bred at a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  

Chinese Big-headed Turtles are native to China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. They can grow to be about seven inches in length. They have skulls of solid bone that is so large in proportion to their bodies that they cannot be withdrawn into the shell for protection.

The species is classified as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They are threatened by trade demand across its Asian range countries.

2 turtle

4 turtle

3 turtlePhoto credit: Wildlife Conservation Society / Julie Larsen Maher

See video of the little hatchlings:


In zoos, specific environmental and climatic conditions need to be manipulated in order to stimulate Chinese Big-headed Turtles to reproduce. Zoo experts were able to successfully recreate and document these conditions in the zoo’s propagation facilities, providing a road map for other organizations to successfully breed these turtles. 

Husbandry techniques were fine-tuned to promote breeding and successful incubation of the eggs. Before the breeding season, adults are isolated and placed in enclosures with environmental conditions that mimic the annual environmental cycles they would experience in the wild. These environmental cycles are important to the regular reproductive functions of the species. Room temperatures and lighting are adjusted depending on the time of year – colder and darker in the fall and winter, warmer and lighter in the spring and summer. During their “winter" the turtles hibernate. After awaking, males are introduced to females.

The Prospect Park Zoo is breeding this species as part of WCS’s global effort to save critically endangered turtles from extinction. The strategy draws on all of the resources and expertise across the institution – including its zoos and aquarium, Wildlife and Zoological Health Programs, and Global Conservation Programs – to take direct responsibility for the continued survival of some of the world’s most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles.

“The success we are seeing at this point in our turtle propagation work is encouraging,” says Jim Breheny, WCS executive vice president of zoos and aquarium and Bronx Zoo director. “Our work on breeding endangered turtles utilizes the expertise found throughout the entire WCS organization as well as various partner organizations with whom we work.”

Learn more about turtle conservation after the fold!

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Second Endangered Keeled Box Turtle Born in Tennessee

Keeled Box Turtle Tennessee Aquarium 1.jpg

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).

Keeled Box Turtle Tennessee Aquarium 2.jpg

Keeled Box Turtle Tennessee Aquarium 3.jpgPhoto 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. 

Meet Thelma... and Louise, the Baby Two-headed Texas River Cooter

Cooter hero

The San Antonio Zoo welcomed a very special arrival to their aquarium: a two-headed (bicephalic) Texas River Cooter named Thelma and Louise! Thelma and Louise were part of a quartet of Texas Cooters hatched at the zoo on June 18 that made their public debut on June 25.

Craig Pelke, Curator of Reptiles, Amphibians, and Aquatics, notes that while this is uncommon, it is not unheard of in both the wild and captive populations. Bicephalic animals are actually twins that did not separate, resulting in two or more heads on one animal. Bicephaly occurs most commonly with snakes and turtles, without any accompanying health issues. Pelke said, “At this time, Thelma and Louise are doing well on exhibit and eating with both heads!”

Cooter size 2

Cooter duo

Cooter hand
Photo Credit: San Antonio Zoo

The San Antonio Zoo is no stranger to two-headed reptiles. A two-headed Texas rat snake named Janus lived there from 1978 until it passed away in 1995. Visitors can see the Cooter hatchlings in the Friedrich Aquarium located inside the zoo.

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Enadangered Turtles Hatch at Houston Zoo


A few months ago, ZooBorns reported on two endangered Madagascar Big-headed Turtles who laid a total of 33 eggs at the Houston Zoo.  Because the ground was too cold for the eggs to develop, the females were induced to lay the eggs in the safety of the zoo clinic.  On May 18 and 19, three of the eggs hatched!


Photo Credits:  Beth Moorehead/Houston Zoo (1); Tina Carpenter/Houston Zoo (2,3)

Though the remainder of the 33 eggs were infertile, zoo keepers say this result is not unusual in young female turtles who have just reached maturity. 

The hatchlings are currently behind the scenes until they are old enough to be on exhibit.  In the meantime, zoo visitors can see their older siblings, who hatched on September 15, inside the reptile house.

The Big-headed Turtles live in the moat of the zoo's Lemur exhibit.  Zoo keepers have created a sandy spot for the female turtles to dig in and lay their next clutch of eggs.

The hatching of these Turtles is significant because they are one of the world's most endangered Turtle species.  Found only on the island of Madagascar, they are traded illegally for use in traditional Asian medicine.