Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Cousin: The Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherbacks are the largest turtles on Earth, growing up to seven feet  long and exceeding 2,000 pounds. These reptilian relics are the only remaining representatives of a family of turtles that traces its evolutionary roots back more than 100 million years. Once prevalent in every ocean except the Arctic and Antarctic, the leatherback population is rapidly declining in many parts of the world.
While all other sea turtles have hard, bony shells, the inky-blue carapace of the leatherback is somewhat flexible and almost rubbery to the touch. Ridges along the carapace help give it a more hydrodynamic structure. Leatherbacks can dive to depths of 4,200 feet — deeper than any other turtle—and can stay down for up to 85 minutes.

Unlike their reptilian relatives, leatherbacks are able to maintain warm body temperatures in cold water by using a unique set of adaptations that allows them to both generate and retain body heat. These adaptations include large body size, changes in swimming activity and blood flow, and a thick layer of fat.

Leatherbacks undertake the longest migrations between breeding and feeding areas of any sea turtle, averaging 3,700 miles each way. After mating at sea, females come ashore during the breeding season to nest. The nighttime ritual involves excavating a hole in the sand, depositing around 80 eggs, filling the nest, leaving a large, disturbed area of sand that makes detection by predators difficult, and finally returning to the sea.

 It is estimated that only about one in a thousand leatherback hatchlings survive to adulthood. Eggs are often taken by humans from nests to be consumed for subsistence or as aphrodisiacs. Many leatherbacks fall victim to fishing lines and nets, or are struck by boats. Leatherbacks also can die if they ingest floating plastic debris mistaken for their favorite food: jellyfish.

Leatherbacks are currently designated as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The number of leatherbacks in the Atlantic appears to be stable or increasing, but the Pacific population is declining at an alarming rate due to egg harvest, fishery bycatch, coastal development, and highly variable food availability. Some Pacific populations have disappeared entirely from certain areas, such as Malaysia.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Cousin: The Speckled Cape Tortoise

The Speckled Cape Tortoise, known locally as the speckled padloper, and internationally as the speckled cape tortoise, is the world's smallest tortoise. A member of the genus Homopus, it is endemic to South Africa and Southern Namibia.

Naturally restricted to a small area in Little Namaqualand, an arid region in the west of South Africa, here it normally lives on rocky outcrops, where it forages among the rocks for the tiny succulent plants it eats.

Males measure 2.5 to 3 inches, while the larger females measure up to almost 4 inches; they weigh about 3.5 – 6 oz. This species has a flattened shell with slightly serrated edges. The orange-brown shell is covered in hundreds of black spots. The males have a noticeably concave belly.

This tiny tortoise can be distinguished from the other Homopus species by its speckles, and by five toes on its forefeet, unlike many of its relatives, which have four toes, on all four feet.

The species is threatened by traffic on roads, habitat destruction and poaching for the pet trade. Many are taken from their natural habitat each year, and nearly all subsequently die as a result, as they do not readily adapt to typical captive diets and climatic change.

However,  their diet (while very varied) is not highly specialized, which would allow the species to adapt well to captivity, provided that proper attention is paid to temperature, dryness and a sufficiently varied diet.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Giant Leatherback Goes Home

The videos show her going from her nest until she disappears into the Atlantic Ocean on Crescent Beach, Florida. The leatherback is the largest, deepest diving, and most migratory and wide ranging of all sea turtles. The adult leatherback can reach 4 to 8 feet in length and 500 to 2000 pounds in weight.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Conservationist Killed Protecting Leatherback Eggs

A sad story indeed. Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old Costa Rican conservationist, was killed protecting the eggs of endangered leatherbacks by poachers who sell the eggs as aphrodisiacs. Read the entire story here to understand the importance of preservation of this endangered species.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Turtle, Tortoise and Terrapin - What's the Difference?

Visit the San Diego Zoo's website for a ton of great information about the difference of these amazingly interesting creatures!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Saving Sea Turtles

Thank you, North Carolina Sea Turtle Hospital and National Geographic!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

Glowing Turtles Discovered

Sept 28, 2015: National Geographic's David Gruber discovers a biofluorescent sea turtle near the Solomon Islands. The critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle is the first reptile scientists have seen exhibiting biofluorescence — the ability to reflect the blue light hitting a surface and re-emit it as a different color. The most common colors are green, red, and orange.  To watch the video click here.

Biofluorescence is different from bioluminescence, in which animals, fish and corals either produce their own light through a series of chemical reactions, or host bacteria that give off light.But researchers never expected to find it in a marine reptile.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Cousin: The Keeled Box Turtle

 This terrestrial Asian Box turtle, or Keeled Box Turtle gets its name from the three large keels, or raised ridges, on its upper shell. Overall it is brownish in colour, ranging from tan to mahogany to dark brown. As well as noticeable keels, the upper shell, or carapace, is serrated at the rear, and occasionally also at the front. The lower shell, or plastron, is yellow to light brown with a dark-brown smudge on each scute.

Like other box turtles, the front of the lower shell is hinged, allowing them to fold it up when their head is withdrawn, and shut themselves in their protective ‘box.’ The head is brown with dark fine lines, and it has a short snout and a hooked, strong upper jaw. Its limbs are grey to dark brown or black, and the hindlegs are slightly club-shaped, whilst the fronts of the forelegs are covered with large scales. The toes of the keeled box turtle are only partially webbed, which hints at its terrestrial, rather than aquatic, lifestyle. Males have longer and thicker tails than females, and often the sexes can also be distinguished by the colour of their irises; females tend to have orange or red eyes, whilst the irises of males are brown or black. Juveniles are quite flat, and become more domed in shape as they develop.

There is little known about the biology of this species in the wild, and so most of the information available comes from those in captivity. During courtship, males can be very aggressive towards females, and will often chase the female, biting at her shell, legs and neck, sometimes even causing an injury. The male will persist for some time before the female finally relents to his advances.

In the wild, keeled box turtles show a preference for plant foods, particularly fallen fruits, but also occasionally feed on worms and snails.

The keeled box turtle occurs in China, in the Guangdong, Guangxi and Hunan provinces and on Hainan Island, and in Vietnam and India. Unlike other turtles, the keeled box turtle is not aquatic, but is instead found in forests, often in deep layers of leaf litter, and in rocky, mountainous regions.

The keeled box turtle is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List. As part of the World Conservation Society’s Asian Turtle Conservation Program, efforts are underway to protect the keeled box turtle within Vietnam’s Cuc Phuong National Park.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Monday, September 7, 2015

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Turtles of Kauai

When on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, check out the local species of turtles. Visit this link for more details on what you'll find there.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

My Cousin: The Eastern Box Turtle

The Eastern Box Turtle is a subspecies of one of two species of box turtles found in the United States. It is the only "land turtle" found in North Carolina, where it is the state reptile. Box turtles are slow crawlers, extremely long lived, slow to mature, and have relatively few offspring per year.

Eastern Box turtles have a high, dome-like carapace and a hinged plastron that allows total shell closure. The carapace can be of variable coloration, but is normally found brownish or black and is accompanied by a yellowish or orangish radiating pattern of lines, spots or blotches. Skin coloration, like that of the shell, is variable, but is usually brown or black with some yellow, orange, red, or white spots or streaks.

Males normally possess red eyes (irises) whereas females usually display brown eyes. Eastern box turtles feature a sharp, horned beak, stout limbs, and their feet are webbed only at the base. Eastern box turtles have 5 toes on each front leg, and normally 4 toes on each hind leg, although some individuals may possess 3 toes on each hind leg. Staying small in size, most range from 4.5 to 6 inches, but occasionally reach over 7 inches. In the wild, box turtles are known to live over 100 years, but in captivity, often live much shorter lives.

When injured or damaged, the shell has the capacity to regenerate and reform. Granular tissue slowly forms and keratin slowly grows underneath the damaged area to replace damaged and missing scutes.

The Eastern Box turtle is found mainly in the eastern United States, as is implied by its name. They occur as far north as southern Maine and the southern and eastern portions of the Michigan Upper Peninsula, south to southern Florida and west to eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In the northern parts of their range, they are rarely found above 1,000 feet in elevation.

Eastern box turtles prefer deciduous or mixed forested regions, with a moderately moist forest floor that has good drainage. Bottomland forest is preferred over hillsides and ridges. They can also be found in open grasslands, pastures, or under fallen logs or in moist ground, usually moist leaves or wet dirt. They have also been known to take "baths" in shallow streams and ponds or puddles, and during hot periods may submerge in mud for days at a time.

In the wild, eastern box turtles are opportunistic omnivores and will feed on a variety of animal and vegetable matter. There are a variety of foods which are universally accepted by eastern box turtles, which include earthworms, snails, slugs, grubs, beetles, caterpillars, grasses, fallen fruit, berries, mushrooms, flowers, bread, duck weed, and carrion.

Thousands of box turtles are collected from the wild every year for the domestic pet trade, primarily from South Carolina, the only remaining state where they can legally be captured from the wild and sold for profit. Captive turtles may have a life span as short as three days if they aren't fed, watered, and held in a proper container. The vivid shell color found in many eastern box turtles often fades when a turtle is brought into captivity.