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.
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.