A rare Beal’s four-eyed turtle recently hatched at the Tennessee Aquarium. According to aquarium herpetologist Enrico Walder this tiny turtle should be treated as big news. “According to records this species of turtle can only be seen at three North American zoos or aquariums, and is listed as an endangered species.
This little turtle in Chattanooga may represent the first successful reproduction of Sacalia bealei in a North American institution,” says Walder.
With more than 500 turtles representing 70 species, the Tennessee Aquarium exhibits more turtles than any other public facility in the world.
A clutch of three eggs was deposited around April 14th of this year, but only one of those eggs turned out to be fertile. Upon hatching, the baby turtle weighed just 6 grams and was only 38 millimeters long. There are only 18 known Beal’s four-eyed turtles in public zoos and aquariums throughout the United States and Europe. There are only seven males, five females and six of unknown sex including the one at the Tennessee Aquarium.
The Beal’s four-eyed turtle gets its name from the ocelli or false eye markings on the back of the turtle’s head. These animals were once common throughout southern China but have seen significant declines in their population in recent years. “As with many Asian species the Beal’s four-eyed turtle has been over collected for use in the Chinese food and traditional medicine trade,” reports Walder.
Because this species has such a low reproductive rate it is doubtful they will ever return to the large numbers of Beal’s turtles seen in the wild just a few decades ago.
An animal like the Beal’s four-eyed turtle is considered endangered when the population of an organism is at risk of becoming extinct. The World Conservation Union has calculated the percentage of endangered species as 40 percent of all organisms based on the sample of species that have been evaluated through 2006.
A male Beal’s four-eyed turtle can be seen in the Aquarium’s “Rivers of the World” gallery located on the second level of the River Journey building. The Tennessee Aquarium’s newest turtle will be housed off exhibit to minimize stress and encourage feeding until it is hearty enough for public viewing.
The Dallas Zoo and the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, California are the only other public institutions with Beal’s four-eyed turtles in their collections in the United States. The Charles Paddock Zoo received their turtle from the Tennessee Aquarium.
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