Featured Image Credit: Tennessee Aquarium
Because of a turtle’s fickleness and tendency to be slow to reproduce, every successful breeding season is significant, especially for species that are in peril. At the Tennessee Aquarium, Bill Hughes, Senior Herpetologist, recently celebrated the successful hatching of a pair each of endangered four-eyed turtles and critically endangered Beal’s four-eyed turtles
But when it comes to breeding turtles, making even small changes to their environment can be like trying to introduce a new food to a seriously 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 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.”
But on June 13, a pair of four-eyed turtles emerged from their shells and the Beal’s turtle hatchlings followed on July 2-3 from eggs that had been incubating at 82 degrees since being laid in April. The Tennessee Aquarium is no stranger to breeding these rare and endangered “four-eyed” species, named due to eye-like markings on the top of their heads. In 2007, it received national attention as the first North American zoo or aquarium to successfully hatch a Beal’s four-eyed turtle. Since then, the aquarium has hatched 15 Beal’s four-eyed and 37 four-eyed turtles!
Like many Southeast Asian species, both the Beal’s four-eyed and four-eyed turtle wild populations have been rapidly declining in recent decades. Human-induced threats including habitat destruction and capture for use as food or pets have contributed to that decline.
Therefore, the aquarium’s successful breeding of these rare turtle species is crucial to their survival. This year, the Beal’s four-eyed turtle became a candidate for the Species Survival Program, and Hughes says the turtle’s conservation status puts it on the fast track to achieving full SSP status in the future.