TSA Turtle Tuesday:  Sulawesi Forest Turtle 
 Little is known about the critically endangered Sulawesi Forest Turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi). The species occurs in a very remote region of Indonesia, in the forest of North and Central Sulawesi. 
When spotted in the wild, they can be found along heavily wooded banks and in shallow clear streams. It is believed that their natural diet consists of various insects, leaves and fallen fruit. Because this species is so close to extinction in the wild, the TSA has made the management of a sustainable captive population a top priority. 
Read more about our work with this amazing species…
 (Turtle Survival Alliance) 
photograph credit: Sheena Koeth

TSA Turtle Tuesday:  Sulawesi Forest Turtle

Little is known about the critically endangered Sulawesi Forest Turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi). The species occurs in a very remote region of Indonesia, in the forest of North and Central Sulawesi.

When spotted in the wild, they can be found along heavily wooded banks and in shallow clear streams. It is believed that their natural diet consists of various insects, leaves and fallen fruit. Because this species is so close to extinction in the wild, the TSA has made the management of a sustainable captive population a top priority.

Read more about our work with this amazing species…

(Turtle Survival Alliance)

photograph credit: Sheena Koeth

WORK IN CURRENT HERPETOLOGY:
Two New Alligator Snapping Turtle Species Announced, Some Face Localized Risks
by Brett Smith, Red Orbit
A new study published in the journal Zootaxa reveals that the alligator snapping turtle is actually three different species – not one as previously thought.The report also indicated that the localized distribution of these species, which includes coastal rivers of the northern Gulf of Mexico, poses a significant threat to their continued survival.
“We have to be especially careful with our management of the Suwannee River species because this turtle exists only in that river and its tributaries,” said study author Travis Thomas, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission scientist, referring to a small river that winds through parts of Georgia and Florida. “If something catastrophic were to occur, such as a chemical spill or something that affects the entire river, it could potentially devastate this species. The turtle is extremely limited by its habitat. All it has is this river and it has nowhere else to go.”
Based on analyses of the fossil record and modern turtle morphology, study researchers revised the genus Macrochelys to include Macrochelys temminkii and the two newly-described species, Macrochelys apalachicolae and Macrochelys suwanniensis. Constrained to river systems that empty into the northern Gulf of Mexico, the species are split by geography, which triggered changes in genetics, according to the study team…
(read more: Red Orbit)
photo: Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

WORK IN CURRENT HERPETOLOGY:

Two New Alligator Snapping Turtle Species Announced, Some Face Localized Risks

by Brett Smith, Red Orbit

A new study published in the journal Zootaxa reveals that the alligator snapping turtle is actually three different species – not one as previously thought.The report also indicated that the localized distribution of these species, which includes coastal rivers of the northern Gulf of Mexico, poses a significant threat to their continued survival.

“We have to be especially careful with our management of the Suwannee River species because this turtle exists only in that river and its tributaries,” said study author Travis Thomas, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission scientist, referring to a small river that winds through parts of Georgia and Florida. “If something catastrophic were to occur, such as a chemical spill or something that affects the entire river, it could potentially devastate this species. The turtle is extremely limited by its habitat. All it has is this river and it has nowhere else to go.”

Based on analyses of the fossil record and modern turtle morphology, study researchers revised the genus Macrochelys to include Macrochelys temminkii and the two newly-described species, Macrochelys apalachicolae and Macrochelys suwanniensis. Constrained to river systems that empty into the northern Gulf of Mexico, the species are split by geography, which triggered changes in genetics, according to the study team…

(read more: Red Orbit)

photo: Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Turtles that eat bone, rocks and soil, and turtles that mine

by Darren Naish

My huge friend and colleague Mathew Wedel owns a Box turtle Terrapene carolina. It’s called Eastie… don’t judge; this is because the animal is an Eastern box turtle (or is she? I wonder if Eastie is a Three-toed box turtle). Anyway, Eastie recently found part of a deceased rat’s head while on a backyard jaunt, and proceeded to deliberately snip away at the broken braincase and eat the bone fragments. This bone-eating carried on for about 20 minutes, and Matt thought it interesting enough to take the photo you see here (TL).

The eating of bones – osteophagy – is well known for turtles, has been recorded in several species, and is observed easily enough in species kept in captivity (like Testudo tortoises). Whenever this subject is mentioned (believe me, it’s always cropping up in conversation), many people recall the photo in David Attenborough’s Life on Earth that shows an Aldabran giant tortoise Aldabrachelys gigantea* scavenging on the carcass of a conspecific (Attenborough 1984) (TR).

As you can see here, it’s not entirely clear what the tortoise is doing, but it looks like it’s gnawing at dried skin and muscle, not bone. Incidentally, the photo was taken by Attenborough himself. I did used to have a very neat photo showing gnaw marks that a pet tortoise (belonging to my late friend and colleague David Cooper) left on a cow bone – to my frustration, I can no longer locate it…

(read more: Tetrapod Zoology - Scientific American)

photos: Mathew Wedel, David Attenborough, and Utahcamera

* Yes, it is actually a 3-toed Box Turtle (T. c. triunguis)

Men rescue huge alligator snapping turtle that was stuck in drainage culvert

by Tyana Williams

A wrestling match pitting a courageous man against one monster of a turtle unfolded in a drainage canal, but it was for the animal’s well-being.

It happened off Hoo Shoo Too Road in Baton Rouge, LA, USA, and the massive alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) still looked a bit troubling even after it was tucked inside a kiddie pool. Its head is as big as a football.

"You’re looking at about a four foot long turtle," said Martin LeBlanc.

Travis Lewis first spotted the creature when peeking into a canal near his driveway.

"It looked like a log," Lewis said. "So, I took a closer look and it was a big ole turtle, so I jumped up screaming and hollering for Martin to come help me."…

(read more: WLOX - 13)

The Trouble With Turtles: Paleontology at a Crossroads

Scientists debate whether modern turtles are more closely related to snakes and lizards or birds and crocodiles.

by Naomi Lubick

Traditional paleontological research has been upended over the past few decades, as less traditional fields, such as genomics and developmental biology, have weighed in on vertebrate evolution. Researchers have examined the lingering color elements in dinosaur feathers, the genetics of woolly mammoths, purported proteins and blood from dinosaurs, and other ancient fossil signatures using modern tools. But the question of turtle evolution has remained resistant to both traditional and novel methods.

More than 300 species of turtles exist today, but where they came from isn’t entirely clear. Turtles are the last big living vertebrate group to be placed firmly on the tree of life, and the arguments are getting messy. Three fields in particular — paleontology, developmental biology and microbiology/genomics — disagree about how, and from what, turtles may have evolved.

Traditional paleontologists have placed turtles, which are indisputably reptiles, in relation to a group of mostly extinct reptilian animals called anapsids, which don’t have holes in their skulls; however, analyses in the 1990s put turtles in the diapsid camp, which originally had two holes in their skulls, and closer to modern reptiles like snakes. Morphology places them near the group made up of lizards and birds and crocodiles…

(read more: EARTH Magazine)

images: T - Kathleen Cantner, AGI.; Bottom 3 - Tyler Lyson, NMNH

Protecting the Northern River Terrapin

Our next field report comes from the Bhawal National Park in Bangladesh where the Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska), one of the rarest turtles in the world, is having another good year!

Five of the six known females in the area have already nested, laying a total of 101 eggs! TSA is hopeful that the sixth female, which was discovered in a local pond and joined the breeding program in October 2013, will also produce eggs. All nests have been moved to a caged protected area on the beach for incubation, and temperatures are being carefully monitored in an effort to produce more females.

As in some other reptile species such as crocodiles, river terrapin sex is determined by environmental temperature after fertilization (Temperature dependent sex determination). Lower temperatures produce male hatchlings while a higher temperature will usually result in females. More females mean more eggs and a brighter future for this critically endangered species…

(read more: Turtle Survival Alliance)

Protecting the Burmese Roof Turtle

Exciting field report from Myanmar where one of the world’s most critically endangered turtles is making a remarkable recovery!

Nesting season is in full swing for the Burmese roof turtle (Batagur trivittata). This species was feared extinct until it was “rediscovered” in 2002 when three individuals were found in a temple pond. Until then, scientists hadn’t seen the Burmese roof turtle since the 1930s.

Now, thanks to the collaborative field efforts of TSA and Wildlife Conservation Society there are 700 turtles thriving under the watchful eye of conservationists in the region. Due to a comprehensive program which includes nest protection, head-starting young turtles for future release and breeding in protected settings, this delicate species has been brought back from the brink.

And this season is turning out to be a bumper crop for nesting. To date, as many as 150 eggs from eight clutches have been recorded! A huge thanks to SOS - Save Our Species for their continued support of our work with this incredible species. Stay tuned for more reports from the field!

(via: Turtle Survival Alliance)

TSA Turtle Tuesday:  Asian Mountain Tortoise
 Did you know the Asian mountain tortoise (Manouria emys) is one of the only turtle species that provides maternal protection for its eggs? 
After making a nest on the surface of the ground, the female will cover the eggs with vegetation and stand guard! If a potential threat approaches, she will push and bite to ward off the predator. If this doesn’t work, the protective tortoise will place herself over the eggs and hunker down! Both surface nests and nest protection are unique characteristics among chelonians. 
You can read more about this critically endangered species and our ongoing conservation efforts on our website…
Turtle Survival Alliance

TSA Turtle Tuesday:  Asian Mountain Tortoise

Did you know the Asian mountain tortoise (Manouria emys) is one of the only turtle species that provides maternal protection for its eggs?

After making a nest on the surface of the ground, the female will cover the eggs with vegetation and stand guard! If a potential threat approaches, she will push and bite to ward off the predator. If this doesn’t work, the protective tortoise will place herself over the eggs and hunker down! Both surface nests and nest protection are unique characteristics among chelonians.

You can read more about this critically endangered species and our ongoing conservation efforts on our website…

Turtle Survival Alliance

Australian Snapping Turtle Hatchlings are the First Ever Born in Any Zoo!!!

The excitement began in September, when the National Aquarium’s female Australian snapping turtle (Elseya dentata) laid her eggs.  The staff immediately gathered the eggs and placed them in an incubator, where they were closely monitored.  On the morning of February 14, the first hatchling emerged from its egg!  Since then, seven other little turtles have hatched.

Aquarium staff have observed healthy behaviors in all the hatchlings, including swimming and basking in open areas.  The hatchlings will remain behind the scenes until they are large enough to move into exhibits.  At hatching, the turtles weighed less than one ounce (24 g).  As adults, they will weigh more than 11 pounds (5 kg).  

The National Aquarium is the only aquarium in the United States to exhibit this species, as well.

(via: ZooBorns)

Photo Credit:  National Aquarium

Lawsuit Could Save Thousands of Sea Turtles

by Amanda Keledjian

On March 1, the sea-turtle nesting season officially began in Florida, with the wondrous appearance of leatherback sea turtles returning to lay their eggs. Later this spring, loggerhead and green sea-turtles will follow suit, flocking to Florida’s beaches in large numbers. The state is an important destination for these marine reptiles; of the seven different sea-turtle species in the world, five call these warm waters home at some point during their migrations. In fact, Florida’s beaches host more nesting turtles than any other state.

Driven by an incredible instinct to return to the same beaches where they themselves were born, these turtles might not know that they are swimming into waters used by shrimp trawlers, one of sea turtles’ most dangerous and deadly obstacles.

Shrimp trawlers in the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. southeast Atlantic kill or injure an estimated 53,000 sea turtles — every year — as the ships tow huge nets the width of football fields slowly through the water, trapping almost everything in their wake.

These nets pose a significant danger to the sea turtles, a vulnerable population. Sadly, all five sea-turtle species are considered threatened or endangered with extinction in the United States. This is why, last month, Oceana and three other groups filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. federal government, urging it to accurately analyze the impacts of shrimp trawls on sea turtles…

(read more: Live Science)

photos:  Projeto Tamar Brazil/ Marine Photobank and NOAA

TSA Turtle Tuesday:  West African Mud Turtle
Today we are highlighting the West African mud turtle (Pelusios castaneus). This species is mostly aquatic and spends much of its day walking on the floor of slow moving waters in search for food. The diet of the carnivorous West African mud turtle consists of snails, worms and arthropods which it finds by foraging. 
You can learn more about the TSA’s work in Africa with this and other species on our website. 
(via: Turtle Survival Alliance)

TSA Turtle Tuesday:  West African Mud Turtle

Today we are highlighting the West African mud turtle (Pelusios castaneus). This species is mostly aquatic and spends much of its day walking on the floor of slow moving waters in search for food. The diet of the carnivorous West African mud turtle consists of snails, worms and arthropods which it finds by foraging.

You can learn more about the TSA’s work in Africa with this and other species on our website.

(via: Turtle Survival Alliance)

TSA Turtle Tuesday:  Reeve’s Turtle aka Chinese Pond Turtle
The adult Chinese pond turtle (Mauremys reevesii) has a rectangular shell and three distinct ridges that run down its length. This shy endangered turtle from Asia is commonly found in shallow ponds, streams and canals with sandy bottoms. It is an omnivorous, semi-aquatic species which feeds on plants and fruits as well as worms, aquatic insects, frogs and fishes. In Japan, newly hatched young, like the one pictured above, are believed to spend the winter in the nest before emerging when the weather warms up the following spring. 
Photo: James Harding
(via: Turtle Survival Alliance)

TSA Turtle Tuesday:  Reeve’s Turtle aka Chinese Pond Turtle

The adult Chinese pond turtle (Mauremys reevesii) has a rectangular shell and three distinct ridges that run down its length. This shy endangered turtle from Asia is commonly found in shallow ponds, streams and canals with sandy bottoms. It is an omnivorous, semi-aquatic species which feeds on plants and fruits as well as worms, aquatic insects, frogs and fishes. In Japan, newly hatched young, like the one pictured above, are believed to spend the winter in the nest before emerging when the weather warms up the following spring.

Photo: James Harding

(via: Turtle Survival Alliance)

Where Do Baby Turtles Go During Their Lost Years?
by Ed Yong
Every sea turtle begins life in the same way. It hatches within its buried nest, forces its way to the surface, and sprints towards the water past a gauntlet of crabs, birds and other predators. Many die, but they emerge in such numbers that there are plenty of survivors. They dive beneath the waves… and disappear.
By the time Atlantic loggerhead turtles start showing up in coastal waters again, they’ve grown from palm-sized infants into large animals whose shells are a couple of feet long. They must have been away for several years, but their movements are secrets withheld by the vastness of the ocean. We know the beaches that the baby turtles hatch from and many of the sites where adults go to feed and breed, but their biographies are missing the all-important childhood chapters.
“It is easy to walk along a beach, counting nesting females or successful hatchlings,” says Katherine Mansfield from the University of Central Florida, who has studied turtles for over 20 years. “It is much harder to survey an entire ocean basin.”…
(read more: Not Exactly Rocket Science - Nat Geo)
photo: Loggerhead Sea Turtle, by Brian Gratwicke

Where Do Baby Turtles Go During Their Lost Years?

by Ed Yong

Every sea turtle begins life in the same way. It hatches within its buried nest, forces its way to the surface, and sprints towards the water past a gauntlet of crabs, birds and other predators. Many die, but they emerge in such numbers that there are plenty of survivors. They dive beneath the waves… and disappear.

By the time Atlantic loggerhead turtles start showing up in coastal waters again, they’ve grown from palm-sized infants into large animals whose shells are a couple of feet long. They must have been away for several years, but their movements are secrets withheld by the vastness of the ocean. We know the beaches that the baby turtles hatch from and many of the sites where adults go to feed and breed, but their biographies are missing the all-important childhood chapters.

“It is easy to walk along a beach, counting nesting females or successful hatchlings,” says Katherine Mansfield from the University of Central Florida, who has studied turtles for over 20 years. “It is much harder to survey an entire ocean basin.”…

(read more: Not Exactly Rocket Science - Nat Geo)

photo: Loggerhead Sea Turtle, by Brian Gratwicke