turtle box baby -  Photo by Tennessee AquariumA tiny new face has herpetologists smiling as the Tennessee Aquarium celebrates its first successful hatching of an endangered keeled box turtle.

Unlike other endangered turtles reared at the Aquarium this year, handlers spent two nervous days waiting for the Cuora mouhotii to emerge after it first broke a hole in its fragile shell.

“Other turtles just step right out,” said senior herpetologist Bill Hughes. “But this one seemed content to open one end of the egg and look out at the world from inside the shell.”

The sharp spikes near the tail seem an unlikely attribute for an animal with such a timid and perilous start. The keeled box turtle tends to lay rather fragile eggs that are often crushed by the parents. Luckily this one was discovered by keepers before being damaged.

The species, native to China, India, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam, get their common names from the three raised ridges, or “keels” running the length of their shells. Like many other Southeast Asian turtles, keeled box turtles have been over-collected for food and the pet trade so conservation organizations are working to protect the remaining wild populations. Zoos and aquariums are working toward increasing backup populations in human care to assure 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 Aquarium, on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, now has six keeled box turtles. There are three adults, one male and two females. The new turtle will not be identifiable as a female or male for several years.

Photo credit: Tennessee Aquarium

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