A tiny new face has Tennessee Aquarium herpetologists smiling. This is the Aquarium’s first successful hatching of a keeled box turtle, Cuora mouhotii, a species that is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Unlike other endangered turtles reared at the Aquarium this year, this recent addition was rather slow to venture into the world. “The spiny turtles just come right out,” said senior herpetologist Bill Hughes. “But this turtle seemed content to open one end of the egg and look out at the world from inside the shell. It stayed there for two days before emerging.”
Keeled box turtles get their common names from the three raised ridges, or “keels” running the length of their shells. The edge of the shell has a number of sharp spikes near the tail. Their rugged appearance doesn’t match a tender start. This species tends to lay rather fragile eggs that are often crushed by the parents. Luckily this one was discovered by keepers before being damaged. “This baby turtle hatched after an incubation period lasting 126 days,” said Mr. Hughes.
This species is native to China, India, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam. Like many other Southeast Asian turtles, keeled box turtles have been over-collected in the wild for food and the pet trade. Several conservation organizations are working to protect the remaining wild populations from illegal trade, while zoos and aquariums are working toward increasing assurance populations in human care. This assures that the species does not go extinct if these animals disappear in the wild. Currently the U.S. population of keeled box turtles at accredited zoos and aquariums is less than 20 animals.
The Tennessee Aquarium has one of the largest turtle collections on public display with more than 500 individuals representing 75 species. The Aquarium now has six keeled box turtles. There are three adults, one male and two females, this new baby and a pair of young keeled box turtles on exhibit in the Turtle Gallery on level 2 of the River Journey building.