Turtle & Tortoise

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

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Tennessee Aquarium has a Nursery Full of Tiny Turtles

Florida Chicken Turtle

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.

Four-eyed Turtle

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

Eighteen Ornate Box Turtles Hatch at Lincoln Park Zoo


Lincoln Park Zoo's eighteen newly-hatched Ornate Box Turtles have a big future ahead. These quarter-sized turtles are part of a conservation effort between Lincoln Park Zoo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that aims to restore the dwindling population of the threatened Ornate Box Turtle across the state. “Our job at Lincoln Park Zoo is to give these little guys the best possible head start. In a sense, we are a turtle nursery,” said General Curator Dave Bernier. “We love to work on these types of conservation projects, especially when an Illinois species that literally lives in our backyard is involved.”

The hatchlings will spend their first year at the zoo’s Kovler Lion House before being released into their natural home -- Illinois sand prairie. But it will take a village: Their zoo turtle team consists of Bernier, zoo reptile experts, and, unexpectedly, the exotic carnivore keepers at the Kovler Lion House. They will live in groups of six surrounded by comfy moss that they can use for nesting, and the climate will be kept warm and balmy – just the way turtles like it. Animal care staff will feed them specially formulated, high nutrient turtle chow. 

Photo Credit: Lincoln Park Zoo

When the turtles are mature enough to be released, the zoo’s partners from USFWS will help them settle into their new home at Lost Mound Sand Prairie, a Unit of Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Savanna, Ill. Located within the former Savanna Army Depot, the area used to be home to many Ornate Box Turtles before habitat loss caused by years of military activities drastically reduced the species’ population.

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A Quartet of Critically Endangered Egyptian Tortoises


A Quartet of tiny Tortoises (critically endangered Egyptian Tortoises to be exact) has hatched at Marwell Wildlife in Hampshire, U.K. The first youngster to hatch weighed just 3.9g and measures slightly taller than the height of a nickel! New hatchlings may be small but this species can go on to live for up to 50 years.

Egyptian Tprtoises are nearly extinct in the wild. Their habitat (two small populations remain in Libya) has been largely destroyed by human activity. The species is also threatened by the illegal pet trade.




Photo credit: © Solent Newsagency

Marwell currently houses 10 adults in its Cold Blooded Corner. A full size adult can grow to around 15 centimeters long and weigh 500 grams. Two of Marwell's females laid eggs earlier in the year and these were removed and placed in an incubator to ensure optimal conditions for their development; precisely 30 degrees centigrade and 75% humidity.

Yellow-spotted Amazon River Turtles Hatch at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo

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New York's Rosamond Gifford Zoo announced that 27 Yellow-Spotted Amazon River turtles hatched at the zoo between April 5 and April 12. Named for the yellow spots on the side of its head, it is one of the largest river turtles in South America.

“The hatching of these once-endangered species is exciting for us, as many of them will enhance the exhibits at other accredited zoos around the country,” said Ted Fox, zoo director. “Captive breeding programs are often critical in the survival of a species, and this is a success story we are proud to tell.”

Females typically lay two clutches of eggs each year, each with up to 50 eggs in it. They make their nests in sandy areas on the banks of rivers where the eggs will hatch two to three months after they are laid. In the wild, eggs are laid at the peak of the dry season so the nest will not be washed away.




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Photo Credit: Amelia Beamish/Rosamond Gifford Zoo

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Tiny Spiny Turtle Update!

Photo Credit: Bill Hughes

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. 

Tiny Spiny Turtle Hatchling at the Tennessee Aquarium


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.

Photo Credit: Bill Hughes

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Ringing In The New Year With 6 Tiny Turtle Hatchlings

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Zoo Prague rang in the New Year with the hatching of six baby Leopard Tortoises. Three of the six had hatched yesterday and the remaining three emerged in time for New Year's day. The fourth largest Turtle species in the world, Leopard Tortoises can grow to be 28 inches long and weigh 120 pounds! The striking pattern on its shell gives the Leopard Tortoise it's name. While little is known about the reproduction requirements for these Tortoises, Zoo Prague were the first breeders of the species to learn that cool temperatures (between 10 and 15 degrees celsius) were needed for the initial development of their eggs.

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Photo credit: Peter Velenský, Prague Zoo

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African Sulcata Tortoise Hatchlings Pose For Family Portrait


These are a few of some 45 hatchlings from the Linton Zoological Gardens in the UK. They are African Sulcata Giant Tortoises, also knowns as Spurred Tortoises -- the third largest tortoise in the world, second only to the Galapagos and the Aldabra Tortoises. Some babies hatched in August, but most did in September, making them about 8 weeks old. All are eating well and growing. Hatchlings begin at 2-3 inches (.08-1.2 cm), quickly reaching 6-10 inches (15–25 cm) within the first few years of their lives. Adults are usually 24 to 36 inch long (60–90 cm) and can weigh 100-200 pounds (45 – 91 kg). 

A representative from the Linton Zoo reported, "Getting these newly hatched all looking the same way proved to be an impossible task. Babies are not normally kept loose in the paddock with the adults, but enjoy the comfort and safety of nice warm vivariums with UV and Infra-red lamps, but we wanted to try to get a nice family portrait!"

Below they are with their mom, Kali, who is 30 years old, and one of the possible fathers of the four males at the Zoo. Each year their herd of six African Sulcata Giant Tortoises produce a few young, but this year they had a bumper hatch --which is how they ended up with over 40 babies from the two clutches.

This species is classified as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List, but fortunately zoological collections have mastered the art of breeding them in captivity. They are native to the Sahara in Africa.




Photo Credit: Linton Zoo