Spotted turtles, Clemmys guttata
Yellow-blotched map turtles, Graptemys flavimaculata
Red-headed Amazon River turtles, Podocnemis erythrocephala
This has been an amazing season at the Aquarium. Earlier this spring, a spiny turtle and a four-eyed turtle hatched, both of which are endangered species. “Our turtle breeding program has been successful in 41 of the 75 species we exhibit and we’re very proud of that,” said Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s curator of forests. “The techniques we’re developing are being shared with others who are working together to preserve turtles and ensure the most threatened species don’t go extinct.”
Senior herpetologist Bill Hughes isn’t shell-shocked by a nursery full of newborns, but he is pleasantly surprised by multiples of one species. “We’ve only had one other red-headed Amazon River turtle hatch before. That was in 2009,” Hughes said. “So to have multiples of this species from one clutch of eggs is pretty remarkable.”
Red-headed Amazon River turtles, Podocnemis erythrocephala, are called side-neck turtles because they cannot pull their heads into their shells. Instead, when threatened, these turtles tuck their heads to the side. Juveniles and adult males have a red head, but adult females tend to have brown heads. In the wild, red-headed Amazon River turtles are hunted for their meat and eggs. As a result, they are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN. These babies will be maintained off-exhibit, but adults can be viewed in the Amazon tank in the Rivers of the World gallery on Level 2.
Yellow-blotched map turtles, Graptemys flavimaculata, are listed as threatened by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The habitat of these turtles is affected by pollution and by the practice of removing log snags, which the turtles use for basking and refuge. According to IUCN, yellow-blotched map turtles also saw further population declines following hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Katrina in 2005. The new foursome will be kept off-exhibit until they get bigger, but Aquarium visitors can see hatchlings from previous years in the Turtle Gallery on Level2. There are also adults on exhibit in the Pascagoula tank in Discovery Hall.
Spotted turtles, Clemmys guttata, are native to eastern North America and occur from Canada south to Florida. According to IUCN estimates, spotted turtles have seen more than half of their wild population disappear in the past 25 years due to habitat loss. Where these turtles remain, additional population declines are occurring due to collection for pet trade. As a result, this species is currently listed as Endangered by IUCN. The new pair will be maintained off-exhibit. Juvenile spotted turtles can be seen in the Turtle Gallery on Level 2.
With more than 500 individuals in the Tennessee Aquarium’s diverse collection of turtles, herpetologists may have more babies on the way. “June is the peak month for turtle hatchlings,” said Hughes. “And even though this has already been a very successful breeding season, we are still watching a few eggs.”