Tennessee Aquarium Hatches 7 Endangered Baby Turtles

Tuesday, August 4, 2020 - by Casey Phillips
Tennessee Aquarium Senior Herpetologist Bill Hughes holds seven recently hatched Four-eyed Turtles and Beal’s Four-eyed Turtles. These endangered and critically endangered species can only be found natively in Southeastern China.
Tennessee Aquarium Senior Herpetologist Bill Hughes holds seven recently hatched Four-eyed Turtles and Beal’s Four-eyed Turtles. These endangered and critically endangered species can only be found natively in Southeastern China.

The Tennessee Aquarium has some espe-shell-y good news to announce. Between late June and early July, Aquarium herpetologists successfully hatched seven adorable baby turtles belonging to two imperiled Southeast Asian species.

Five of the minuscule, surprisingly nimble babies are Four-eyed Turtles (Sacalia quadriocellata), an endangered species found only in the streams and ponds of a remote region of extreme southeastern China. The last two hatchlings are Beal’s Four-eyed Turtles (Sacalia bealei), a closely related — and critically endangered — species with an even smaller range. Both species are named for the distinctive “eyespot” patterns on the top of their heads.

In 2007, the Aquarium made national headlines for successfully hatching a Beal’s Four-eyed Turtle. At the time, only 18 Beal’s were being cared for by zoological facilities. Including this most-recent pair, the Aquarium has now hatched another 18 of these critically endangered turtles, doubling the 2007 count for the entire population in human care.

Successfully hatching these species results from a steady hand and a tremendous amount of trial and error. In general, turtles tend to be slow-to-mature. These particular species lay eggs infrequently, which makes it difficult to determine the ideal nesting conditions, says Senior Herpetologist Bill Hughes.

“You only get one clutch a year, and you don’t get many eggs,” he says. “Every year, you get one shot to get it right and then it’s done until next year. That’s challenging.”

Since hatching the first Beal’s more than a decade ago, Mr. Hughes has made only minor adjustments to environmental factors such as the size and ambient temperature of the habitat in which the turtles reside. Even slight alterations to seemingly unimportant factors could tank an entire year’s nesting season, he explains.

“I’m doing something that works. I don’t want to change too many parameters and find out that I messed it up,” Mr. Hughes says. “There’s something to be said for consistency. They’re comfortable.”

This year’s batch of five Four-eyed Turtle hatchlings is a tremendous boon for the species. Some years, the Aquarium may only hatch one or two Four-eyed Turtles, but larger groups aren’t unheard of. A record group of seven hatched in 2012, but with this crop of hatchlings, 2020 is tied as the Aquariums second-most-successful year for Four-eyed Turtles.

Nationwide, Four-eyed Turtles are only cared for in a handful of institutions, many of which received juvenile turtles that originally hatched in Chattanooga. Similarly, Beal’s are only cared for by one other institution, the Knoxville Zoo, which received its Beal’s from the Aquarium. Sending animals to other facilities bolsters the overall health of the population in human care and opens up new resources for additional breeding in the future.

With seven new hatchlings to care for in addition to overseeing North America’s largest population of turtles in human care, Mr. Hughes has his hands full. Nevertheless, he’s quick to point out that these endangered juveniles have been the silver lining on a black cloud of a year.

“Hatching seven of these turtles is a good thing, in general,” Mr. Hughes says. “Somehow, though, hatching seven this year, when so many other things seem to be going in the wrong direction, seems even better than normal.

“At this point, any kind of triumph, even a little tiny one, feels like a major triumph because everything else is going so badly.”

Visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium can see button-cute examples of Four-eyed and Beal’s Four-eyed Turtle in the hatchling nursery of the all-new Turtles of the World gallery.

The Tennessee Aquarium has designated 2020 as “The Year of the Turtle” to raise awareness of these amazing creatures’ conservation needs.

More than half of the world’s 356 turtle species are in danger of extinction thanks to habitat loss and illegal trafficking for pets, food and medicinal use.

In addition to hatching and rearing endangered turtles, the Aquarium launched a new conservation program in February. The AZA SAFE American Turtles program harnesses nearly 50 partners’ collective power to address the illegal trade of turtles in the United States.  

More information about Four-eyed Turtles can be found at tnaqua.org/animal/four-eyed-turtle/

 

Tennessee Aquarium Senior Herpetologist Bill Hughes holds two recently hatched Beal’s Four-eyed Turtles. This critically endangered species is native to Southeast China, where its numbers have steeply declined due to habitat loss and illegal trafficking.
Tennessee Aquarium Senior Herpetologist Bill Hughes holds two recently hatched Beal’s Four-eyed Turtles. This critically endangered species is native to Southeast China, where its numbers have steeply declined due to habitat loss and illegal trafficking.

Tennessee Aquarium And UGA To Host Pioneering Workshop Addressing Freshwater Microplastic Pollution

Gatlinburg SkyLift Park Hosts SkyWalk Event And SkyTrail Grand Opening

Paradise Garden Foundation Acquires American Folk Artist Howard Finster's Home


It is the inevitable destiny of all water that falls on land to eventually return to the sea. And like an enthusiastic tourist, it can’t help but pick up souvenirs along the way, whether it’s ... (click for more)

Gatlinburg SkyLift Park , offering premier views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since 1954, will host highline team Rucksack Circus where performers will walk a line suspended 150 ... (click for more)

The Paradise Garden Foundation announced that it has acquired the last home the Rev. Howard Finster occupied at Paradise Garden. Mr. Finster, who was an American folk artist from North Georgia, ... (click for more)



Travel

Tennessee Aquarium And UGA To Host Pioneering Workshop Addressing Freshwater Microplastic Pollution

It is the inevitable destiny of all water that falls on land to eventually return to the sea. And like an enthusiastic tourist, it can’t help but pick up souvenirs along the way, whether it’s dirt, fertilizers or — as many scientists now suspect — plastic. In recent years, the world slowly has awoken to the, ironically, enormous impact microscopic plastic has on marine life. ... (click for more)

Gatlinburg SkyLift Park Hosts SkyWalk Event And SkyTrail Grand Opening

Gatlinburg SkyLift Park , offering premier views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since 1954, will host highline team Rucksack Circus where performers will walk a line suspended 150 feet, on Oct. 10 and 11 for multiple shows throughout the weekend for its SkyWalk event. For its first performance in Tennessee, the highline team will anchor its line on each side of ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Person Killed In Fire Early Sunday Morning In East Chattanooga

A fatal fire is under investigation in East Chattanooga. The call came in as a residential fire at 2:50 a.m. on Sunday in the 2700 block of Taylor Street. Neighbors reported that a camper was on fire behind a home and responding firefighters found a large bus fully involved. Engine 4 was first on scene. Bystanders notified the crew that a possible victim was inside ... (click for more)

Hamilton County Virus Cases Increase By 53; Tennessee Only Has 2 More Deaths

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County on Saturday is 53. The new total is 9,241. There have been no more deaths, said the county Health Department, for a total of 91. Tennessee had two more coronavirus deaths bringing the total to 2,218, state Health Department officials said. There were 2,075 new cases in the state for a total of 183,514. The state currently ... (click for more)

Opinion

From Exclusion To Inclusion: The Need For A New Chattanooga Way

Executive Summary: A New Chattanooga Way The Chattanooga renaissance that local leaders brag about took almost 40 years to reach fruition. It took risk. It took vision. It took billions of dollars. The physical renaissance is a farce if it fails to lift all Chattanoogans. The evidence in this report suggests the renaissance is incomplete. A New Chattanooga Way would include ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Thank You, Bill Zinkeler

There is one story in the Bible that I try to never forget. It’s the one where the Lord Jesus healed 10 lepers but only one came back with thanks. Man, forget those other nine … I strive to be the one who comes back. After all God has done in my life … I may fail again and again. I may be ‘a back-slider,’ and a disappointment to the Kingdom, but, brother, not thanking God every ... (click for more)