Turtle & Tortoise

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.



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

Read more about WCS's fine conservation efforts below the fold:

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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

Turtle hatchlings part of 20-year success story at Oregon Zoo


Western Pond Turtles are making a comeback, and these week-old hatchlings at the Oregon Zoo are destined to aid in the species’ recovery.

For more than two decades the Oregon Zoo has been working to restore this species to its historic range, which once extended from Baja California to Puget Sound.  As a result, Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata) numbers are on the rise.  This species, which can live up to 70 years, has been profoundly affected by the construction of river dams, invasive plants, predation, and draining of wetlands.

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In 1990, the Western Pond Turtle “head-starting” project was initiated, which accelerates turtles’ natural growth rates, and thus their ability to withstand predation. The Oregon Zoo collaborates with Woodland Park Zoo and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Other partners include Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Forest Service.

Each spring, scientists count, trap, mark and fit transmitters on adult females in the wild.  In summer, the females are monitored and nest sites are identified.  Hatchlings are collected in the fall to be cared for at the zoo.  Juveniles, some of whom are fitted with transmitters, are returned to the wild the following spring.

The first turtles released in 1991 in the Columbia River Gorge are reproducing and laying eggs in the wild. Over the past two decades, approximately 1,500 turtles have been released, and with good results: the gorge turtle population ranged from a low of 150 in 1990 to approximately 1,500 in 2011. Scientists tracking them estimate that 95 percent of the turtles released to sites in the Columbia River Gorge have survived.

Photo Credits: Carli Davidson, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo (top photo) and Michael Durham, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo


Endangered Keeled Box Turtle Hatches at the Tennessee Aquarium


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.

More Testudines For Your Tuesday?


If you're looking for Turtles and Tortoises today, you've come to the right place. Phoenix Zoo welcomed the birth of a tiny (compared to his dad Ralph that is!) Galapagos Tortoise in late July. Proud parents Ralph and Mary have been at the zoo since before it even opened (50 years!). This is their 13th hatchling over their tenure at the zoo, and the first one for the pair since 2001. The newest addition can be found in its own exhibit in the Small Wonders area of the Children’s Trail.


Photo credit: Paula Swanson (1 and 2) Zoo Staff (3)

Ralph weighs more than 500 pounds. His new baby is about the size of a small cell phone. Chris and Andrew (pictured above with Ralph) of ZooBorns were lucky enough to meet Ralph, Mary, and the new baby in person at The Phoenix Zoo during the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' annual conference.

Critically Endangered Turtles Hatch at the Houston Zoo

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This week the Houston Zoo announced that five baby Madagascar Big-Headed Turtles hatched in their Madagascar Lemur exhibit. The hatchlings are small – approximately 6.8 g each, just a little larger than an US Quarter, and averaging only 28.7mm wide and 32.3 mm long.

This is the first hatching at a zoo in the United States – and Houston is one of the only zoos in the world that is currently breeding them. Ranked at number 16 on the worlds’ most endangered turtle and tortoise list, these turtles are facing extinction due to drastic deforestation and illegal hunting. This species can only be found in seven protected areas in western Madagascar. 

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Adams/Houston Zoo

Read more about these endangered Turtles after the jump:

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Tennessee Aquarium has a Nursery Full of Tiny Turtles

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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.

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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.

Four-eyed Turtle (left), Yellow-blotched Map Turtle (right)

Photo Credits:  Bill Hughes / Tennessee Aquarium