From enormous Burmese Pythons in Florida to Wall Lizards in NYC, introduced species come as little surprise to US herp enthusiasts. But the recent (December, 2010) discovery that a huge African Spurred or “Sulcata” Tortoise, Geochelone sulcata, had apparently been living in an Arizona desert for some time, gave most of us pause for thought. Read More »
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The 26 Mud and Musk Turtle species (Family Kinosternidae and Staurotypidae) share a common body plan and general behaviors, yet show an astonishing range of adaptations to diet, habitat and predators. Among them we find both North America’s smallest turtle and brutes with jaws capable of crushing a finger. Very few receive attention from hobbyists or zoos, yet nearly all are hardy and can be bred in captivity. I’ve had the good fortune of keeping 15 or so species, including my longest-lived pet, a 41 year-old Common Musk Turtle (please see Part 1)…following is an introduction to some unique species.
Note: All Mud and Musk Turtles can deliver painful and, in the case of the Mexican Giant Musk, dangerous bites. Many calm down in captivity, but extreme caution is always necessary. Read More »
The term “Asian Turtle Crisis” was coined in 1997, when photos of thousands of rare turtles being slaughtered in a Guangzhou, China food market propelled the tragic plight of Asia’s freshwater turtles into the conservation spotlight. The private turtle-keeping and zoo communities were quick to take action, and a number of fine organizations and programs resulted. In 2001, I traveled to south Florida to help rehabilitate and place 7,500-10,000 turtles that had been confiscated in China.
Hard Work Pays Off
In south Florida I worked day and night alongside dedicated folks from the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society and other herp-oriented organizations, internationally-known turtle biologists, private turtle fanciers and zoo colleagues. The marathon effort was a grand success, with more turtles saved and placed in good homes than anyone would have dared hope upon first seeing their wretched condition. Given the passion, funds and other support that the situation aroused, the future looked promising. Unfortunately, 9 years later, the situation remains very bleak.
90+ Species Face Extinction
Recent studies by Conservation International (please see this article) reveal that at least 1/3 of the world’s 280 turtle species, including most of those found in Southeast Asia, are in imminent danger of extinction. Two photos on the homepage of the NY Turtle and Tortoise Society, taken 12 years apart in Guangzhou, China food markets, illustrate, graphically and tragically, that little has changed.
Several turtle species are represented by single populations numbering 12-50 individuals; only 4 specimens of the Red River Giant Softshell (Rafetus swinhoei, please see photo) are known to exist, the status of many Asian Box Turtles (Cuora spp., please see photo) can not even be determined, but several species have not been seen in years…the list goes on.
In Part 2 of this article we’ll take a look at the causes of the recent catastrophic declines in turtle populations and what is being done to reverse the trend.
Excellent article on the status of Asia’s turtles along with disturbing photos from food markets in China – READ THIS!
Cuoras Species Headshots image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Torsten Blanck
I have belonged to local herpetological societies since childhood, and continue to be involved with several today. A few, such as the NY Turtle and Tortoise Society, nicely serve both professional herpetologists and lay people…but whatever their leanings, all are of immense value. Today I’d like to highlight some professional groups and journals that are open to everyone.
The Bronx Zoo’s Reptile House has copies of the “Big Three” – The Journal of Herpetology, Copeia and Herpetologica – dating back to the first issues of each, and in my 21 years working there I think I went through most of them! Membership tends to be expensive (student rates are often available), so I summarize research notes from current issues and post them here on occasion (please see articles below). Read More »
As a boy working for an animal importer in NYC, I was much taken by the first hatchling Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) I encountered. The minute, jet-black beast, much smaller than a baby Red-Eared Slider, was irresistible. Last month that very same turtle turned 46 (please see photo). So I am, of course, partial to the species, but there are actually very good reasons to keep this fascinating turtle and its relatives.
This turtle rarely exceeds 4 inches in length (record: 5 3/8 inches); males average 3 inches. The highly-domed carapace is olive-brown to black and often algae-coated. The plastron is small, leaving a good deal of flesh exposed. The skin is gray to black, and there are two yellow stripes on the head and a pair of sensory barbels (fleshy protuberances) on the chin and throat. Read More »