Coming Out of Their Shell: Rare Baby Turtles Thriving at Zoo

The baby box turtles at the National Zoo might fit in the palm of your hand, but don’t let their size fool you. These reptiles have been five years in the making.

When the Smithsonian’s National Zoo adopted three endangered Bourret’s box turtles in 2012, keepers said they knew it wouldn’t be easy to get them to breed.

While the turtles were healthy, and the female has laid eggs every year since 2013, none of those eggs hatched, the National Zoo said in a press release.

Keepers said that’s because this species has a reputation as a sort of Goldilocks of the reptile world.

The young in the eggs need a very specific set of conditions to grow: not too hot, not too humid, just right.

Zoo staff say monitoring those conditions became a top priority when the female laid the first clutch of eggs of this year, on March 22.

Keepers checked on the eggs daily, and made adjustments to keep the atmosphere just right for the growing turtles.

Twelve weeks later the pair hatched, weighing less than an ounce each and marking the first time Bourret’s box turtles reproduced at the National Zoo.

Keepers say the little turtles are healthy and gaining weight, but they might not be alone for long, according to a spokesperson for the Zoo.

The female laid another clutch on April 29, so keepers are anticipating the arrival of more tiny turtles towards the end of July.

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