Turtle & Tortoise

Tiny Sea Turtles Find Safety at Brevard Zoo

Green sea turtle

Brevard Zoo’s Sea Turtle Healing Center is caring for nearly 300 Green and Loggerhead Sea Turtle “washbacks” that were pushed ashore when Hurricane Leslie disrupted their habitat.

“When Sea Turtles hatch, they rely on energy stores from a yolk sac to make the multi-mile swim to offshore weed lines—floating masses of Sargassum seaweed that provide shelter and food,” explained Sea Turtle Program Manager, Shanon Gann. “If the seaweed is disrupted by a storm or strong winds that wash them back to shore, the little turtles do not have the energy to make the long swim again.”

Loggerhead sea turtle

Washbacks in waterPhoto Credits: Brevard Zoo

Healing Center staff and volunteers are caring for the washbacks for a few days until open ocean conditions improve; at that time, they will be transported offshore in a boat and placed in weed lines.

Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) volunteers are transporting the turtles to the Healing Center. Individuals who find washbacks should immediately call STPS at 321-676-1701 or Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 for rescue instructions.


Rare Western Pond Turtles at Woodland Park Zoo

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The forty-five Western Pond Turtle hatchlings at Woodland Park Zoo are not only tiny and cute, but also very rare and precious. As part of a collaborative recovery project with Washington state, the turtles were gathered as eggs from nests at a protected site and brought to Woodland Park Zoo where they will receive excellent care until they are released to specified sites next summer.

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4_WPZ-JLoughlin-TurtleHatchlings2019-82Photo Credits: John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo

Late each summer, turtles are brought as eggs or hatchlings and given a head start on life at Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo to improve their chance of survival in the wild. Unlike wild turtles, they are fed at the zoo throughout the winter so that by summer they are nearly as big as 3-year-old turtles that grew up in the wild. Once the turtles reach about 2 ounces—a suitable size to escape the mouths of invasive predatory bullfrogs—they are returned to protected sites and monitored by biologists.

The Western Pond Turtle once ranged from Washington’s Puget Sound lowlands, southward through Western Oregon and California to Baja California. By 1990, their numbers plummeted to only about 150 in two populations in the state of Washington. These last remaining individuals struggled for survival as they battled predation by the non-native bullfrog, disease and habitat loss. A respiratory disease threatened the remaining turtles and biologists could not find evidence confirming hatchling survival.

In 1991, Woodland Park Zoo and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) joined forces to recover Western Pond Turtles by initiating a head start program. In 1993, the state listed the Western Pond Turtle as endangered. In 1999, Oregon Zoo joined the recovery team and, over the years, other nonprofits, government agencies and private partners have contributed to the multi-institutional conservation project. Because of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, more than 1,000 turtles thrive today at protected sites.

Over the last several years, an emerging shell disease affecting 29 to 49 percent of the wild population threatens decades of recovery progress. Known to cause lesions in a turtle’s shell, severe cases can lead to lowered fitness and even death. Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have joined the recovery efforts by collaborating to better understand the disease. The aquarium and university are looking at the disease from a microbial and pathological perspective to better understand its origin and the role environmental factors could play. The goal is to give young turtles a better chance at survival in the wild.

Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo are working with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other partners to address this urgent situation: studying the disease, treating severely diseased turtles, and providing overwinter care for turtles to allow their shells to heal before they are released back into the wild. After the treated turtles are released, WDFW monitors the turtles to determine if they remain healthy and are able to reproduce normally in the wild.

In 27 years, self-sustaining populations have been re-established in two regions of the state: Puget Sound and the Columbia River Gorge. More than 2,100 turtles have been head started and released, and surveys indicate that more than 1,000 of the released turtles have survived and continue to thrive at six sites.

The Western Pond Turtle is one of 19 species that are part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) initiative, which focuses on the collective expertise within AZA’s accredited institutions and leverages their massive audiences to save species. AZA and its members are convening scientists and stakeholders to identify the threats, develop action plans, raise new resources and engage the public. AZA SAFE harnesses the collective power of all AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and invites the public to join the effort.


'Half-Shell Hero' Hatchlings Get Head Start in Oregon

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Fifteen baby Western Pond Turtles arrived last week at the Oregon Zoo. Smaller than a nickel, the hatchlings are extremely vulnerable to predators. To give them a fighting chance, the tiny turtles were collected from the wild and will be reared in the Zoo’s turtle conservation lab until they’re big enough to go back to the pond.

“Baby turtles are really small when they hatch, so they’re the perfect size for a lot of animals to eat,” said Shelly Pettit, the Zoo's Senior Keeper for Reptiles and Amphibians. “And the biggest problem they have right now are the invasive, or introduced, bullfrogs — they prey on turtle hatchlings right out of the nest.”

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4_09-27-2018wp-182Photo Credits: Oregon Zoo

The Western Pond Turtle is native to the United States. They are currently classified as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN. Several predators threaten this species, especially the hatchlings, due to their small size and soft shell.

Raccoons, otters, ospreys, coyotes, weasels, and bullfrogs are predatory threats to the Pond Turtle. The American Bullfrog is the largest frog species in North America. It can tip the scales at more than a pound and has been driving the Pond Turtle to the brink of extinction.

Last week, Pettit and her colleagues took charge of 15 Western Pond Turtle hatchlings, collected by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Service from sites in the Columbia Gorge. The zoo is “head-starting” these tiny turtles, caring for them until next spring when they will be large enough to avoid the bullfrogs and have a fighting chance on their own in the wild.

Unlike recovery programs for other endangered species like California Condors or Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies — which take place offsite or behind the scenes — this conservation effort is easy to see. Oregon Zoo visitors can watch the small turtles as they grow inside the zoo's Nature Exploration Station.

The turtles at the Zoo will experience summer year-round, with heat lamps and plentiful food, so they don’t go into hibernation.

“We keep these little turtles warm, safe and well-fed in the lab,” Pettit said. “As a result, they grow to about the size of a 3-year-old during the nine months that they stay with us.”

Once the turtles reach about 50 grams (a little more than 2 ounces), they are returned to their natural habitat and monitored for safety.

The Western Pond Turtle, once common from Baja California to the Puget Sound, is listed as an endangered species in Washington and a sensitive species in Oregon. Two decades ago, Western Pond Turtles were on the verge of completely dying out in Washington, with fewer than 100 left in the state. Since then, more than 1,500 zoo-head-started turtles have been released back into the wild.

“We’re at a critical point with this species,” said Pettit. “We really have to grow them up in their population numbers if we’re going to save them in time.”

The Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project is a collaborative effort by the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, USDA Forest Service and other partners.


Maritime Aquarium Works to Save Baby Loggerhead

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The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is caring for a rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle, during its first year of life, in a new “Sea Turtle Nursery” exhibit. The Aquarium is providing care for the baby in preparation for it being released into the Atlantic Ocean next fall.

The guest Sea Turtle will be living at The Maritime Aquarium as part of a loan program of the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, whose staff and volunteers inspect turtle nests on beaches to look for “stragglers” (newly hatched turtles) that, for various reasons, didn’t make it out of nests.

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4_Aquar.baby loggerheadPhoto Credits: The Maritime Aquarium

According to staff, these young turtles are rescued and raised for a year at loan institutions, such as The Maritime Aquarium, before being returned to North Carolina the following fall for release into the Gulf Stream.

Tom Frankie, director of Exhibits for The Maritime Aquarium, said, “Aquarium staff repeat the process each October: travel to North Carolina to release a year-old Loggerhead and then bring a new hatchling back to Norwalk.”

The newest hatchling is about five weeks old and only 3.5 inches long. The little Loggerhead will live in a new habitat near the Aquarium’s exhibit that features two large Green Sea Turtles.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) were named for their relatively large heads, which support powerful jaws that allow them to feed on hard-shelled prey, such as whelks and conch. They generally grow to weigh about 300 pounds and are found around the globe in nine “distinct population segments”: five of the populations are considered to be “Endangered,” and the other four, including the Loggerheads off the U.S. Atlantic Coast, are considered “Threatened.” Their biggest threats are from coastal development that destroys nesting habitats and from accidental capture in fishing gear.

“We are very excited to welcome this Loggerhead hatchling to the Aquarium,” Frankie said. “Besides the unique opportunity to give the turtle a safe environment for its first year, the exhibit also provides an important chance to talk about Sea Turtle conservation and to inspire our guests to support conservation efforts.”

The “Sea Turtle Nursery” exhibit opened October 21 and is free with admission to The Maritime Aquarium.

For those unable to visit the Connecticut facility, staff will provide updates on the hatchling’s development and progress via The Maritime Aquarium’s website www.maritimeaquarium.org and Facebook page.


Rare Four-Eyed Turtles Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium

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The Tennessee Aquarium recently celebrated the successful hatching of four endangered turtles.

When it comes to breeding some turtles, making even small changes to their environment can be like trying to introduce new foods to an especially picky eater.

“You don’t want to go changing a lot of stuff, or you may unsettle them and have to wait until next year to try again,” says Tennessee Aquarium Senior Herpetologist Bill Hughes. “With some turtle species, it doesn’t matter. With others, you move them to a different space, and they don’t lay eggs for five years. It throws them off track.”

Because of their fickleness and tendency to be slow to reproduce, every successful turtle-breeding season is significant, especially for imperiled species. At the Aquarium, Hughes recently celebrated the successful hatching of a pair each of endangered Four-eyed Turtles (Sacalia quadriocellata) and critically endangered Beal’s Four-eyed Turtles (Sacalia bealei).

The hatchlings emerged from their shells in the Tennessee Aquarium’s rooftop turtle nursery on June 13 (Four-eyed) and July 2-3 (Beal’s) from eggs that had been incubating at 82 degrees since being laid in April.

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4_Beal's Four-eyed Turtle (Sacalia bealei) hatchlingsPhoto Credits: Tennessee Aquarium

The Aquarium is home to the largest collection of freshwater turtles in North America. In 2007, it received national attention as the first North American zoo or aquarium to successfully hatch a Beal’s Four-eyed Turtle.

In the last decade, the Aquarium has had continued success in hatching these “four-eyed” species, which are native to Southeast Asia and named due to eye-like markings on the top of their heads. Including the most recent babies, the Aquarium has successfully hatched 15 Beal’s Four-eyed and 37 Four-eyed Turtles since 2007.

In all, just 47 Four-eyed and 24 Beal’s Four-eyed are housed in North American facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Hatchlings raised at the Tennessee Aquarium have been shared with other caretakers in an effort to shore up their captive population. In 2015, a trio of Beal’s Four-eyed were sent to the Knoxville Zoo — the only other AZA institution to house them — and Four-eyed hatchlings have been shipped to facilities as far as New York, Texas and California.

In light of these turtles’ limited numbers, both in the wild and in captivity, Hughes says he’s largely opted to avoid tampering with his breeding setup for fear of derailing programs that are helping to significantly bolster their overall populations.

“The only thing I’ve really changed is cooling them off more in winter and incubating them a degree or two warmer,” he explains. “They’re all still in their same space they’ve been in for years, which is helping.”

Like many Southeast Asian species, both the Beal’s Four-eyed and Four-eyed Turtle wild populations have been in free fall in recent decades. This decline is thanks to a combination of human-induced threats, including habitat destruction and capture for use as a food source or to supply the pet trade.

According to a 2014 study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 50-60 percent of the 335 modern turtle and tortoise species are either extinct or threatened with extinction. That gives them the dubious distinction as the most imperiled major group of vertebrates on the planet.

The Aquarium’s successful rearing of Beal’s Four-eyed and Four-eyed Turtles is crucial to their survivability. Hughes serves as the coordinator of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the Four-eyed Turtle since that plan became active in 2012. This year, the Beal’s Four-eyed Turtle became a candidate for the program, and Hughes says the turtle’s conservation status puts it on the fast track to achieving full SSP status in the future.

Even after years of success in raising them, Hughes never tires of seeing new turtles emerge from their eggs. And as you would expect from such dogged creatures of habit, they tend to arrive almost like clockwork, he says.

“They lay at the same time or year, and the eggs hatch at the same time of year, so it’s like a floating holiday that doesn’t float that much. You know when it’s coming,” Hughes says. “It’s still a thrill to see them.”

Photo below by Todd Stailey, Tennessee Aquarium photographer, showing the ocelli, "false eyes", of the Four-eyed Turtle5_FOUREYEDTURTLE


Keepers Celebrate Critically Endangered Hatchlings

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Keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Reptile Discovery Center are celebrating a conservation success five years in the making: a pair of Bourret’s Box Turtle hatchlings.

These young are the first of their species to hatch, both at the Zoo, and as a part of the North American Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Bourret’s Box Turtle.

Ever since the turtles emerged from their shells June 12, keepers have closely monitored them to ensure they are eating and gaining weight. They appear to be healthy and thriving, weighing 25 grams each (about 1/52 the size of their mother, who weighs 1,300 grams).

Staff have not yet verified the 10-day-old turtles’ sex, as they show no sexual dimorphism at this age. The young turtles, as well as the adult female and two adult males, will remain off-exhibit while under observation.

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4_20170616-07roshanpatelPhoto Credits: Smithsonian's National Zoo

The Bourret’s Box Turtles’ parents arrived at the Zoo in 2012 following a SSP breeding recommendation. From October to March, adult Bourret’s Box Turtles undergo a period of ‘brumation’: a hibernation-like state based on temperature cycling. It is only after completing this annual process that successful reproduction occurs. Despite the female producing eggs every year since 2013, this was the first year the eggs developed fully and hatched.

Bourret’s Box Turtle eggs can be difficult to hatch in human care, in part because the incubator’s humidity and temperature must be set at a specific range in order for embryonic development to occur. Keepers checked on the incubated eggs daily and made minor adjustments to maintain this range. The female laid her first clutch of this year on March 22, and these hatchlings emerged after a 12-week incubation. Keepers are cautiously optimistic that a second clutch, laid April 29, will hatch with similar success. The Zoo will share the information gathered about this species’ breeding and development with AZA for the benefit of other institutions that exhibit and want to breed this species.

Scientists estimate only 2,300 Bourret’s Box Turtles (Cuora bourreti) remain in their native habitat, the evergreen forests of Vietnam and Laos. These terrestrial turtles are classified as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as their populations have declined more than 90 percent since the mid-1950s due to habitat deforestation and illegal trafficking in the food and pet trade.


Tiny Turtle Arrives for ‘World Turtle Day’

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A tiny turtle made a timely debut on May 15 at ZSL London Zoo. Not only was the Spiny Hill Turtle hatchling the first ever of its kind to hatch at the Zoo, it arrived just in time for World Turtle Day on May 23*.

After keeping a close eye on the egg during its 136 day incubation period, keepers managed to capture the ‘cracking’ moment the endangered Spiny Hill Turtle came out of its shell, on a time lapse camera.

ZSL keeper, Francesca Servini, said, “The reptile team have spent four years carefully researching this fascinating turtle species so we’re very excited to have our first ever hatch at ZSL London Zoo – just in time for World Turtle Day.”

“The hatchling used its special egg-tooth to break the shell’s surface early in the morning, and it took 36 hours to completely push its way out. The egg-tooth, which is a tiny sharp white bump on the turtle’s head, will soon fall off now its job is done.”

The turtle weighed a tiny 33g at birth and measured just 61mm, although it will eventually grow to approximately 27cm in size.

Spiny hill turtle (c) ZSLPhoto Credits: ZSL London Zoo

The Spiny Hill Turtle (Heosemys spinosa) is native to lowland and hill rainforests, usually in the vicinity of small streams, from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

The unusual spiny shell spikes that give the turtles their name are used to deter predators and provide camouflage among their forest floor homes.

The Spiny Hill Turtle has been classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. According to the IUCN: “…known trade volumes of the species have declined by about 50% in Indonesia recently despite high demand in the food trade. It is restricted to small and isolated populations over much of its range, although there is a lack of data for some areas.”

ZSL London Zoo is honored to be a part of the work being done to save this endangered species. According to a Zoo spokesperson, “It has been estimated that more than ten million turtles are being traded for food, traditional medicine and the pet trade each year in Asia, where this turtle originates. The husbandry research being carried out here at ZSL London Zoo is becoming increasingly important in guaranteeing the existence of these animals for the future.”

*American Tortoise Rescue (ATR), a nonprofit organization established in 1990 for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle, is celebrating its 17th annual World Turtle Day® on May 23rd. The day was created by ATR to celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. Now celebrated around the globe, turtle and tortoise lovers are taking “shellfies” and holding “shellebrations” in the US, Canada, Pakistan, Borneo, India, Australia, the UK and many other countries.

ATR launched World Turtle Day to increase respect and knowledge for the world’s oldest creatures. These gentle animals have been around for 200 million years, yet they are rapidly disappearing as a result of smuggling, the exotic food industry, habitat destruction, global warming and the cruel pet trade. It is a very sad time for turtles and tortoises of the world.

For more information about American Tortoise Rescue and World Turtle Day, see their website: www.worldturtleday.org


Tiny Chicken Turtles Hatch at Tennessee Aquarium

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Three Chicken Turtles hatched in mid-April at the Tennessee Aquarium. The tiny trio hatched from eggs that were laid in January by adults in the Aquarium’s ‘Delta Swamp’ exhibit.

At their initial exam, each of these hatchlings measured less than two inches long. As adults, they will grow to about 10 inches in length.

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3_baby chicken turtle with rulerPhoto Credits: Tennessee Aquarium

The Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia) is an uncommon freshwater turtle native to the southeastern United States.

The name "chicken" commonly refers to the taste of their meat, which, at one time, was popular in southern U.S. markets. The species is characterized by a long neck and unique coloring, which could also contribute to the reason for their name.

The Tennessee Aquarium’s herpetologists often point out that Chicken Turtles look as if they are wearing striped pants when viewed from behind.

Chicken Turtles are semiaquatic turtles, found both in water and on land. They prefer quiet, still bodies of water such as shallow ponds and lakes, ditches, marshes, cypress swamps, and bays. They prefer water with dense vegetation and soft substrate.

The turtles are omnivorous, eating crayfish, fish, fruits, insects, invertebrates, frogs, tadpoles, and plants. During the first year of their lives, they are almost completely carnivorous.

Eggs hatch in about 152 days. The turtles lay eggs during the winter months, with the eggs hatching in the spring. The eggs undergo diapauses: meaning, the eggs don’t develop immediately after laying as with other species of turtles.

The Chicken Turtle is currently classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. Populations are currently considered stable throughout their range, although they do face potential threats.

Habitat destruction reduces suitable habitat for foraging, migration, and hibernation. Chicken Turtles are sometimes killed while crossing roadways, as they migrate between habitats.


Tiny Turtles Help Save Their Species

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The conservation effort to save the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle from extinction has received a huge boost after 21 tiny turtles hatched as part of a NSW (New South Wales) Government captive breeding program at Taronga Zoo.

The turtles began to hatch on January 19 as part of the first ever breeding program for this critically endangered species.

“There could be as few as 200 Bellinger River Snapping Turtles remaining in the wild, so these hatchlings have a vital role to play in rebuilding this population,” Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said.

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4_Hatchlings 7_Photo by Paul FahyPhoto Credits: Paul Fahy / Taronga Zoo

Taronga Zoo established the breeding program after a newly discovered disease wiped out up to 90 per cent of their local population of Bellinger River Snapping Turtles (Myuchelys georgesi) on the mid-north coast near Bellingen, NSW, Australia in 2015.

A government emergency response team was formed to investigate and coordinate the rescue of a group of healthy turtles to establish an insurance population.

Taronga Keeper Adam Skidmore said he was surprised at how quickly the turtles had settled into their new home, with four of the five females producing eggs this breeding season.

“We weren’t really expecting any hatchlings this year, so it was an amazing result to get four clutches of eggs. The team was very excited to see the first hatchlings push their way out of the eggs,” Mr. Skidmore said.

Weighing 4-5 grams at birth, the hatchlings have begun eating and swimming and are being closely monitored by keepers in a special quarantine facility at Taronga.

The long-term aim of the breeding program is to raise and release hatchlings back into Bellinger River. Meanwhile, Australian Registry of Wildlife Health researchers continue to investigate the cause of the disease and monitor the remaining turtles and other wildlife in the Bellinger River catchment system.

More great turtle pics below the fold!

Continue reading "Tiny Turtles Help Save Their Species " »


Aquarium Welcomes Their New Loggerhead Hatchling

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Adventure Aquarium welcomed its own “Baby New Year” for 2017. Last week, the New Jersey facility announced the arrival of their new Loggerhead Sea Turtle hatchling.

The young turtle hatched in August and will call Adventure Aquarium home for most of the year. This coming fall, it will be released into the Gulf Stream, off the coast of North Carolina, along with other yearlings from aquariums all over the country.

Staff says they won’t know the gender of the little one, as that can’t be identified until a Loggerhead Sea Turtle reaches sexual maturity at the approximate age of 21.

Each year, Adventure Aquarium welcomes a hatchling from North Carolina Aquarium, at Pine Knoll Shores Sea Turtle Program, to rehabilitate for one year. Biologists will help guide and train the hatchling to do activities it would normally do in the wild as a sort of “survival school” for Sea Turtles.

“The hatchling came to us weighing 86 grams [a little over 3 oz.] and is now over 226 grams, or just under eight ounces,” said Nikki Grandinetti, Curator of Fish and Invertebrates at Adventure Aquarium. “He loves jellies and shrimp. He’s also very active and investigates anything with his mouth.”

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Hatchling3 (1)Photo Credits: Adventure Aquarium

During the month of January, Adventure Aquarium is also asking guests to help select the name of the young turtle at a voting station located in the Main Lobby of the Aquarium. The name options are: Darwin, Griswold, Groot and Tina. Using spare change, guests visiting Adventure Aquarium will be able to vote for their favorite name choice. The winning name will be announced this coming February.

Check Adventure Aquarium’s website and social accounts for the latest news about their Loggerhead hatchling, as well as the other Aquarium animals, events and more: http://www.adventureaquarium.com

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