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CRITICALLY ENDANGERED BOG TURTLE HATCHES AT ZOO ATLANTA

A tiny new member of one of the rarest species in the United States represents the first time one of its kind has hatched at Zoo Atlanta in 30 years. A critically endangered bog turtle hatched on May 21, 2022.

The species, not hatched at the Zoo since 1992, is found only in the eastern U.S., including northeast Georgia. Zoo Atlanta’s trio of adult bog turtles, a male and two females, were hatched in 2014 and 2015. This is the first year that the turtles have successfully nested, resulting in the hatchling appearing this spring following a closely monitored period of artificial incubation. The parents are still relatively young to have reproduced.

“This is a truly thrilling birth for us at Zoo Atlanta, not only because bog turtles are critically endangered, but also because we have not seen this species reproduce here at the Zoo in three decades,” said Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD, Vice President of Collections and Conservation.

The hatchling has a shell (carapace) roughly the size of a quarter. Bog turtles are the smallest turtles in North America, with fully-grown adults reaching weights of only just under 4 ounces. The ecosystem the turtles call home – the mountain bog – is as rare as the bog turtles themselves, largely due to the same challenges faced by the turtles: habitat destruction for roadway construction, construction for human communities, and other human-made threats. One of the most critically endangered habitats in the southern Appalachians, mountain bogs are also home to plant species found nowhere else on Earth, including state-protected montane purple pitcher plants and federally-threatened swamp pinks. The Zoo Atlanta Horticulture Team assists the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy in efforts to restore a mountain bog in northeast Georgia.

Zoo Atlanta is part of the AZA SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) American Turtles Program, which joins together animal care experts, wildlife agencies, universities, non-governmental organizations, and law enforcement in working to battle the illegal trade of American turtles. Thousands of American turtles are illegally shipped or smuggled abroad each year, often crudely hidden in luggage, stuffed in socks, or otherwise disguised. Through this trade, turtles from the U.S. are sold internationally in other countries, where demand for food, traditional medicines, and pets has reduced local turtle harvests. These activities have caused turtles worldwide to experience greater recent population declines than any other class of vertebrate.

While the new hatchling is currently being housed behind the scenes with the Zoo’s two adult females, its father can be seen in the bog turtle habitat in the Georgia eXtremes building of Zoo Atlanta’s Scaly Slimy Spectacular complex. The animal habitats and interpretive messaging of Georgia eXtremes are devoted to highlighting native Georgia reptiles and amphibians.

To learn more about conservation programs and partnerships at Zoo Atlanta, visit zooatlanta.org/conservation.

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