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New Baby Turtles at the Tennessee Aquarium

7/26/2012 11:28:13 AM

Herpetologists at the Tennessee Aquarium have their hands full caring for nearly two dozen new turtle hatchlings.

Seven baby red-headed Amazon River turtles are among the many new additions at the Tennessee Aquarium.
Above image: A turtle baby boom at the Tennessee Aquarium includes these seven red-headed Amazon River turtles listed as Vulnerable species by IUCN. 
Photo credit: Bill Hughes / Tennessee Aquarium 

Additional high-resolution images available upon request

Video links included below.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                Contact: Thom Benson 423-785-3007

Oh Baby! Tennessee Aquarium has a Nursery Full of Tiny Turtles
Herpetologists Caring for Nearly Two Dozen Hatchlings

Chattanooga, Tenn. (July 26, 2012) – Tiny terrapins are taking over the Tennessee Aquarium, triggering a tidal wave of tasks for turtle keepers. This month to date, herpetologists have tallied two dozen new turtles. While many might think tracking turtles would take a tortoise-like tempo, the Aquarium’s collection of more than 500 turtles from 75 different species makes herpetology truly a trade that’s tackled in track shoes. “In addition to all of the exhibits with turtles, we care for a large number of pairs off exhibit. So we stay busy throughout the year,” said Aquarium senior herpetologist Bill Hughes. “While many species nest at specific times of the year, they don’t choose specific times of the day to lay eggs. So, we really have to keep a close eye on all of the enclosures to make sure we collect the eggs in a timely fashion for incubation.”

Up-To-Date Turtle Tot Totals – 21 New Babies Help Conservation Efforts
Camera shy yellow-blotched map turtles.

Above: A pair of camera shy yellow-blotched map turtles.

Hughes reports eight yellow-blotched map turtles, Graptemys flavimaculata, this year. A few more could hatch at the Aquarium before the season is over. This species of map turtle is endemic to the Pascagoula River and some of its tributaries in Mississippi. “They are declining in the wild because of habitat loss and are currently federally-protected,” Hughes said. Success with species like the yellow-blotched map turtle helps provide offspring that can be placed at other institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). “We’re then able to reach guests with important conservation messages about rare or protected species that cannot, or should not, be removed from the wild,” said Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s curator of forests. Watch video of baby yellow-blotched map turtles. 

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. “This builds assurance colonies. If these species should disappear in the wild, they won’t become totally extinct,” said Collins. Adult yellow-blotched map turtles can be seen in the Aquarium’s Delta and Pascagoula River exhibits.

The red-headed Amazon River turtle, Podocnemis erythrocephala, is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN, but the reality of their status could be much grimmer. “The most recent information is from 1996 so we don’t really know how many are left in the wild,” said Hughes. “It’s difficult to believe their populations have increased significantly since the last report.” There are now seven new baby red-headed Amazon River turtles at the Aquarium. “In the previous years combined, we have only hatched five of this species,” Hughes said. “We still have one egg incubating that appears to be viable.” Aquarium guests can see an adult male red-headed Amazon turtle in the Rivers of the World Gallery. Watch video of baby red-headed Amazon River turtles.  

Above: A baby four-eyed turtle. 

Above: A baby four-eyed turtle. Below: The beautiful markings on the shells of four-eyed turtles.

The plastron and carapace of the four-eyed turtle.

The four-eyed turtle, Sacalia quadriocellata, is listed as Endangered by IUCN. The Aquarium has three new four-eyed turtle hatchlings. This species gets its name from the false eye markings on their necks. Hughes said these most recent babies hatched from eggs laid in April. The Aquarium displays a hatchling from last year in the nursery exhibit in the River Journey Turtle Gallery. Baby four-eyed turtles from previous years have been placed at other AZA institutions. 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 Collins. Guests can also see four-eyed turtles in the Asian River exhibit. Watch video of baby four-eyed turtles.

A baby Florida chicken turtle emerges from an egg.

Above: A baby Florida chicken turtle hatching.

Finally, two Florida chicken turtles, Deirochelys reticularia chrysea, joined the rest of this recent baby boom at the Aquarium. This pair hatched from eggs laid at the end of January. This species is not threatened or endangered in the wild in spite of their common name. 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. “Chicken turtles have unusual reproductive strategies,” said Collins. “They breed in winter and their eggs need to be cooled for several weeks before being warmed to begin developing. Research in zoos and aquariums helps uncover these details. And that can lead to successful breeding of rare species for conservation purposes.” Aquarium guests can see chicken turtles in the Delta exhibit. Watch video of baby Florida chicken turtles. 


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