CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Two species of endangered turtles have hatched at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.
The aquarium said in mid- to late May it hatched a total of four four-eyed turtles, two each of similar species.
The first two four-eyed turtle hatchlings were discovered May 18-19. A close relation, the Beale’s four-eyed turtle, was found less than two weeks after that, and a second Beale’s hatchling was found a couple of weeks after that.
Four-eyed turtles don’t actually have four eyes; they’re named for “false eyes” on top of their heads. They are native to Southeast Asia and their numbers have been declining due to habitat loss and over-collection, officials said.
The aquarium has hatched 17 Beale’s four-eyed turtles since its first one in June 2007. At the time, only 18 were known to be cared for in accredited facilities.
During the same time, the aquarium says it has hatched 40 four-eyed turtles, which have also been listed as endangered since 2000 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Breeding the four-eyed turtles can be more difficult because unlike other turtles, they only lay a single clutch of two to three eggs each year, experts said. The eggs are sensitive to a number of factors, like humidity and ambient temperature changes, and hatchlings aren’t guaranteed.
“If I have a bad year, in terms of breeding, I have to wait a year to try again. This is playing the long game,” said Bill Hughes, the senior herpetologist at the Tennessee Aquarium. “When one hatches, you feel like you’ve conquered a challenge; you’ve won.”
The aquarium has sent some of its past turtle hatchlings to zoos in Knoxville, Waco and New York City in an effort to secure the species against extinction.