Red-eared slider turtle

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Until 1975, when selling turtles less than four inches long was banned due to outbreaks of salmonella in children, “babies” of this species were sold by the millions every year, for a few cents. Most died due to ignorance of their care. Those that lived, soon outgrew their green color and “cuteness”, reaching more than ten inches. Many were turned loose, with the result that these turtles from the Midwestern US are now found on both coasts, as well as such countries as France, South Africa, and Japan, where they threaten biodiversity.

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Mexican giant musk turtle

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Known as the Gua in Mexico, this huge-headed turtle is also found in Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. A giant among the musk and mud turtle family, it can attain a shell length of 14 inches. Despite its superficial resemblance to snapping turtles, it is not related. Prized as food because of its size, it is considered near-threatened. It is not common in collections, but has bred repeatedly at the DWA.

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Radiated tortoise

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This beautiful tortoise was listed as an endangered species by the US Government in 1973. In the last decade, its status has deteriorated from being classified as vulnerable to extinction, to critically endangered. People who traditionally live in its dry spiny forest habitat have a taboo against harming them. Recently, people from other parts of Madagascar have collected tens of thousands each year to eat or sell, and much habitat has been destroyed. A captive breeding program was established in the 1970s, and more than 400 live in US collections.

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Madagascar big-headed turtle

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This critically endangered freshwater turtle was long thought to be in the otherwise South American genus Podocmemis, which includes the Arrau and Yellow-spotted side-necked turtles, also displayed at the DWA. More recent research indicates it belongs in its own genus, but that its closest living relatives are South American, evidence of Madagascar and South America both being part of the Gondwana Super-Continent until it split apart approximately 135 million years ago. Efforts are underway to establish a captive-breeding program.

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Mata mata turtle

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A resemblance to a pile of rotting leaves serves this reptile well. When unaware small fishes swim too close, they disappear instantly — sucked in by a powerful vacuum created when it opens its jaws. Found in quiet water across a large area of tropical South America, it usually only comes onto land to lay its eggs. It rarely swims, preferring to walk underwater, taking air at the surface through the unique proboscis in front of its tiny eyes.

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Yellow-spotted Amazon turtle

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In the 1960s, vast numbers of the tiny, brightly colored young of this species were sent to the US with shipments of tropical fish, but most did not survive. Since females may exceed 17 inches in shell length, they are not appropriate for most home aquariums. Serious private collectors and zoos have done well with them, and they have bred many times in captivity. While considered vulnerable to extinction, they remain an important resource for Native Americans in parts of their wide South American range.

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Arrau turtle

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This South American turtle is famous for the mass gatherings of females that come ashore to lay their eggs, often a hundred at a time. Otherwise, these plant-eaters hardly ever leave the water. Females are much larger than males, reaching a shell length of three feet. Because their eggs and flesh have long been prized as food, they have been subject to overhunting, and are now classified as Conservation Dependent.

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