Turtle & Tortoise

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

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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!”

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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

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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!

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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.


Prague Zoo is the First to Hatch Rare Turtles

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Eleven tiny Brown Roofed Turtles hatched at the Czech Republic's Prague Zoo this month, the first of the species to hatch in any zoo in the world. 

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Photo Credit: Tomáš Adamec, Zoo Praha

Brown Roofed Turtles are native to South Asia, including Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.  They are listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Many Turtle species in this region of the world are in decline.  They are often collected illegally for the pet trade and for use in traditional Asian medicine.  The Turtles' shells are ground up, mixed with herbs, and marketed as remedies for a wide variety of ailments, but there is scant evidence that these potions are effective.


Tiny Tortoises Hatch in Perth

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The Perth Zoo in Australia had another successful season in their efforts to conserve Western Swamp Tortoises with 33 successful hatches. The zoo has been working hard since 1989 to help conserve this critically endangered species by rebuilding their wild population through a captive breeding and reintroduction program. Since the program's initiation, the zoo has hatched more than 800 tortoises, 600 of which have been successfully reintroduced to the wild. 

In order to help increase the hatching success, after tortoises lay their eggs, keepers dig them up and place them in incubators. They remain here for four to six months until the hatchlings emerge. This year, the zoo was able to capture rare footage of two tortoises emerging from their shells, which can be found below. After they are born, the hatchlings are weighed and marked with nail polish on their shells so that they can be individually identified.

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Photo credits: Daniel Scarparolo / Perth Zoo



Hatchlings are raised at the zoo for about three years until they reach 100 grams in weight. At this point they are released into one of four sites that are managed by the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation to help boost the wild population. In addition, the zoo maintains an "insurance population" of 150-200 Western Swamp Tortoises in case of an unforseen  drastic decline in wild number.

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Tiny Pancake Tortoises Hatch at Gladys Porter Zoo

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Three Pancake Tortoises have hatched at Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas. The first tortoise began to pip on March 31st, followed by two more hatchlings on April 1st and 10th. 

Found on rocky hills and savannas of east Africa, Pancake Tortoises have unusually flat and thin shells. These flexible and agile tortoises are excellent climbers, and escape from predation by fleeing or squeezing into tight crevices instead of hiding in their shells. Due to habitat loss and poaching, they are listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN.  

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Photo credits: Gladys Porter Zoo

In the wild, Pancake Tortoises live in isolated groups, and many individuals may be found sharing the same rocky crevice. Males compete for females during the breeding seaon in January and February, and nesting occurs in July and August. Females generally lay one egg at a time, but may lay several eggs over the course of a few months. In captivity, females will breed year-round, with an incubation period of four to six months.  The tiny young are independent as soon as they hatch.


Coming Soon to the Houston Zoo: Baby Big-headed Turtles!

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Lurking in the murky waters of the Houston Zoo’s Lemur exhibit moat are seven critically endangered Madagascar Big-headed Turtles.  When the Turtles received their annual veterinary checkup, radiographs and ultrasounds revealed that two of the females had eggs. 

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Photo Credits:  Houston Zoo

The females would normally lay their eggs in nests excavated near the water’s edge, but the Houston Zoo staff determined that ground temperatures were too cold for the eggs to develop successfully.  Instead, the zoo veterinarian induced the females to lay their eggs in the safety of the clinic.  The two females laid a total of 33 eggs! 

The eggs were collected and placed in two separate incubators in the reptile house, with temperatures set at 28.5° Celsius (83.3°F) and 30.5° Celsius (86.9°F).  The Houston Zoo is the first in North America to incubate eggs from Madagascar Big-headed Turtles, and little data exists.  The staff expects the first hatchlings to emerge sometime in May.

Madagascar Big-headed Turtles are found only on the island of Madagascar, where they inhabit slow-moving streams.  Though they are among the world’s most endangered turtle species, they are still eaten for food and illegally shipped to Asia, where they are used for traditional Asian medicine. 


Rare Roti Island Snake Neck Turtles Hatch at Bristol Zoo

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The UK's Bristol Zoo announced some very good news: Six new Roti Island Snake Neck Turtles hatched and are all doing very well. They are just about a month old. It can take up to ten years for them to reach full adulthood.

The Roti Island Snake Neck Turtle has an extremely limited distribution and has been subjected to intense collection pressure for the international pet trade market, which has driven it into virtual commercial extinction. Recent field surveys have documented extremely depleted remaining populations still being impacted by persistent collection efforts, with remaining habitat areas also being reduced by agricultural development and conversion of swamps and marshland to rice fields.

The turtles will eventually be put out on display, although they’re still very young and fragile so are currently kept safely behind the scenes.

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Photo Credit: Bristol Zoo

 


Rescued Baby Loggerhead Arrives in Monterey

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After a full day of travel on December 20, this baby Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) touched down in Monterey, California, around 10 p.m. Steve Vogel, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Husbandry Curator who accompanied the little turtle on its journey, brought it immediately to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where it went straight into the water behind the scenes.

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The next morning, Veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray examined the hatchling. At just four months old, it weighs almost half a pound (0.22 kg), and its shell measures about 4.4 inches (11.2 cm) long and 3.4 inches (8.7 cm) across. The turtle passed the exam, but is being keep it behind the scenes until after Christmas to acclimate to a regular feeding routine. 

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Turt vetPhoto Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium

This Loggerhead is one of nine on loan to various U.S. zoos and aquariums from the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. They were late hatchlings that didn’t make it to the water with their nest-mates. All of them were rescued from nests on North Carolina beaches and will eventually be returned to the wild. This little turtle will stay at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for as long as two years before its return release back in North Carolina.

This new turtle will serve an important role during it’s stay, acting as an ambassador for its species. The Aquarium will make it the focal point of an exhibit that highlights the threats facing sea turtles and other ocean animals from unsustainable fishing practices. In the wild, sea turtles often die when they’re accidentally caught in fishing gear, primarily in trawls and longlines. sea turtles around the world also face deadly threats from ocean pollution – particularly plastic debris.

Since the turtle eventually will be released back into the wild, the aquarists will take a “hands-off” approach and not hand-feed it or spend more time with it than necessary, though they will continue to keep track of the hatchling’s weight through routine exams.


Bronx Zoo Hatches Extremely Rare Yellow-headed Box Turtles

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Five Chinese Yellow-headed Box Turtles have hatched at the WCS Bronx Zoo.They are a part of WCS’s strategy to save some of the most critically endangered turtle species in the world. 

Chinese Yellow-headed Box Turtles are considered to be one of the 25 most endangered turtles in the world, with fewer than 150 individuals remaining in the wild. They once thrived in streams in the highlands of the Anhui Province of eastern China. But the population collapsed due to human consumption, use in traditional medicine, pollution, habitat loss, and the pet trade. 

Chinese Yellow-headed Box Turtles require the artificial manipulation of specific environmental and climatic conditions in order to be stimulated to breed. But the experts at WCS’s Bronx Zoo were able to successfully recreate these conditions in propagation areas in the zoo’s Reptile House. 

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“The biology of the species requires the adults to hibernate prior to breeding,” said Don Boyer, Curator of Herpetology at WCS’s Bronx Zoo. “We carefully monitor the environment and gradually reduce the temperature in order to induce a natural state of hibernation. Following hibernation, turtle pairs are introduced and carefully monitored to watch for evidence of courtship and breeding activities.”

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Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher

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Nine Endangered Borneo River Turtles Hatch at Dresden Zoo

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There's more baby animal news coming from the Dresden Zoo! For the first time, nine Borneo River Turtles (Orlitia borneensis) have hatched. This is also the first of its species hatched at a zoo in Germany.

On April 9, keepers noticed a clutch of eggs on the exhibit ground covered with leaves and other nesting materials. The eggs were recovered and subsequently carefully monitored in an incubator. Then, from mid-August to early September, the babies hatched from their eggs using their egg tooth, a hard horny projection on the bill with which they crack the hard shell. Eight of the 9 hatchlings survived the first critical days; each is now being reared behind the scenes.

Also known as the Malaysian Giant Turtle, the Borneo River Turtle is the largest river turtle, growing to be up to 32 inches (80 cm). They lead solitary lives, inhabiting fresh waters -- rivers and lakes -- in Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra.

The Borneo River Turtle is considered Vulnerable in peninsular Malaysia and Endangered in Indonesia, where it is exported in large quantities despite official protection. It is threatened by hunting and poaching for sale in East Asian food markets in huge numbers. Therefore this successful breeding at the Dresden Zoo greatly aids the conservation of this rare turtle -- and what they learn can be shared with other zoos to support perpetuation of this species. 

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Photo Credit: Dresden Zoo