Good Morning, Zoo!

Most mornings, I am on the early shift. It’s my responsibility to open up our department and get us ready for the day. Every morning has its familiar faces and routines. Sometimes I have to stop what I am doing and take a moment to appreciate how lucky I am to spend my time with amazing animals.

Remember Al? He's a bit sleepy in the morning. That makes sense because he is essentially solar powered. He's most active once he has warmed up a bit.

Remember Al? He’s a bit sleepy in the morning. That makes sense because he is essentially solar powered. He’s most active once he has warmed up a bit.

Our outdoor turtle marsh bustles with activity on a warm spring morning.

A wood turtle peeks out from his night-time hiding place under the leaf litter.

A wood turtle peeks out from his night-time hiding place under the leaf litter.


An eastern box turtle hits the snooze button in her leafy bed.

And sometimes we find a surprise guest.


Hey, you’re not a turtle! A five-line skink takes advantage of a sunny spot and basks in the warmth of the morning sun.


I have some surprises to share with you in a week or so. I can’t wait! As soon as I can tell, I will. Until then, I’m keeping secrets…

Happy Monday! I have not drawn the winner from the giveaway. I’ll work on that later tonight. In the meantime, you can still go here to vote if you’d like. Entries are closed, but I’d still appreciate the vote. Unless we just won. Which we might have done. I’ll keep you posted!

I’m signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo, it’s a little less crazy than the November event because we set our own goals. I’m starting my first new project since getting my full-time job. Anyone want to join me? Go here to sign up! 28 days until the writing begins. I can hardly wait!

Making Things Right

Sometimes bad things happen. This summer, I have been able to watch as an unfortunate circumstance was made right.

Turtles and tortoises are pretty much hard-wired to do what they were made to do – find food, find shelter, mate, lay their eggs, hibernate, repeat. Being so instinctive has helped them to survive for a very long time, but sometimes those instincts work against them. They don’t adapt quickly to changes in their environment, such as roads intersecting their nesting routes.***

This summer, a female common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina serpentina, was struck by a car and killed while crossing a road. A quick-thinking observer picked up the turtle and took it to the local vet school. The turtle turned out to be a gravid (egg-carrying) female. Her eggs were promptly removed and were brought to the zoo for incubation.

Snapping turtle eggs in early June. 19 eggs is on the low end of average.

Snapping turtle eggs in early June. 19 eggs is on the low end of average.

Incubating reptile eggs is a trickier business than hatching other critters. When the eggs are retrieved from a nest, they must remain in the exact position in which they were found. If they are turned, the embryos can separate from the egg and drown. They need to come with a giant “This end up!” sticker.

I don’t have a lot of experience with turtle eggs. I’m a tortoise gal, myself. When I looked at these eggs, I didn’t have a whole lot of hope. So many of the eggs were dented, and those bright white spots are calcifications. Weird. But It have learned enough to know that we will always err on the side of caution. The eggs were carefully placed in vermiculite and set up for incubation.

The eggs were also candled. Candling is when a light is shined through the egg to check for any development.


As expected, no development was noted. It would be very unlikely to see growth in recently-laid eggs, anyway, so the eggs were incubated with crossed fingers.

A few weeks later, the eggs were candled again.

Note the veins running through the egg. This egg is fertile! The shadow beneath is the developing embryo!

Note the veins running through the egg. This egg is fertile! The shadow beneath is the developing embryo.

Holy cow! Several of the eggs showed signs of development.

Yesterday, I got an email telling me there was someone waiting to meet you all.

Check him (her?) out! Yes, that's a quarter for size comparison.

Check him (her?) out! Yes, that’s a quarter for size comparison. The turtle is covered with vermiculite. Once it has its first bath, seeing features will  be much easier.

Click to enlarge any of them you’d like to see more closely.

Looking at the tray of eggs, I would guess there are at least five others that will hatch. How soon? Hopefully really soon. Once the babies have emerged, they will stay at the zoo only a week or two before they are released back into the wild. They know all that they need to know to survive. That’s where the hard-wiring has the advantage.

I hope to post updates and pictures of any subsequent hatchings.. Fingers crossed that a few more make it. About 70% of nests in the wild are lost to predation, so this little guy is ahead of the game, despite its precarious entry into the world.

***Turtles sometimes cross roads to get to and from breeding grounds. If you ever find a turtle walking across a road and want to help it, put it across the road in the direction it was facing. If you put it back where it came from, it will only turn around and head back to where its homing device is telling it to go. Also, don’t stop in the middle of a busy, busy road. You’ll both get squashed.

New Kids In Town

The rarest tortoise in the world. Possibly fewer than 400 left in the wild. It’s hard to wrap my brain around it. The incredible thing is that I now have the opportunity to wrap my hands around them. My zoo made international news last week with the announcement that they are the recipients of four of eight Astrochelys yniphora (ploughshare tortoises)  confiscated last year.

Here you can see the very unique dome-shaped shell.


The ploughshare tortoise is endemic to the island of Madagascar, as are many of the tortoises our zoo is already successful with. They’re from the northwestern corner of the country, and are rapidly disappearing due to poaching for food and for the pet trade.

The coloration really melts my butter

They look enormous, don’t they? They’re not. While they will one day top 100lbs, these particular animals weigh half a pound or less.

Look at that face! THAT FACE!

They possess a unique body shape. Their carapace (top shell) has a cartoonish roundness that I find endearing. With proper humidity and diet, the shell should remain like this. The common name comes from a weird protrusion on the front of males. It’s used to flip rival males over during battles over females. Amazing video here.  Whether the youngsters we have are males are females is unknown at this point. It will be at least 10 years before they are old enough to breed. Working with tortoises usually means thinking in the long-term.

I think this one might be my favorite of the four, which by default makes it my favorite tortoise in the entire universe

Welcome to my corner of the world, little friends. I have high hopes for you!

Must See To Appreciate!

This week, the zoo welcomed an amazing new addition with the hatching of a Spiny hill turtle. These turtles are critically endangered in the wild, and this hatchling has an incredible story. Its parents were illegally removed from the wild for human consumption and were stuffed in foam crates, along with hundreds of other turtles for export. Before customs could confiscate them, many of the crates collapsed, suffocating the animals inside. The turtles that survived the ordeal were sent to appropriate facilities for rehabilitation. My zoo received five spiny hill turtles, and were the first facility to successfully breed any of the animals from this confiscation. Since then, several more babies have made their appearance.

Heosemys spinosa, the spiny hill turtle. It will spend a few days on damp paper towels as its umbilicus closes. Then it will be ready to go for a swim.

It looks enormous, doesn’t it? Here’s a not-so-close-up:

It's not as big as it looks, is it?

So here’s the really amazing part. Brad, the Lead Keeper, took some measurements.

Every neonate is weighed and measured.

This baby has a maximum carapace (shell) length and width of 63mm. That’s about 2 1/2 inches. Hang onto your hat. The egg shell itself measured a mere 36mm.  You read that right. The baby is almost twice as wide as the egg it was living in. How is that even possible? Like this:

The curve of the carapace (top shell) is incredible, but check out the wrinkles in the plastron (bottom shell)! I love how it has its little nose pulled in. Its face reminds me of Homer Simpson. And those bumpy things on either side are its legs.

And I thought we were cramped when we lived in 900sq ft with two kids!


special thanks to sj for creating the watermark.