Quarter-sized hatchlings are ambassadors for one of Georgia’s most threatened wild places
ATLANTA – March 9, 2023 – A pair of tiny Georgia native turtles are the newest members of one of the rarest species in the United States. Two critically endangered bog turtles hatched at Zoo Atlanta on March 1 and 2, 2023.
Bog turtles are the smallest turtles in North America. With carapaces (shells) roughly the size of a quarter, the hatchlings both entered the world weighing less than half an ounce. Their fully-grown parents are similarly diminutive at just 3.7 to 4.2 ounces.
The species is found only in the eastern United States, including northeast Georgia. The ecosystem the turtles call home – the imperiled mountain bog – is as rare as the bog turtles themselves, largely due to the same challenges faced by the turtles: habitat destruction for roads, construction for human communities, and other human-made threats. One of the most critically endangered wild habitats in the southeast U.S, mountain bogs are also home to plant species found nowhere else on Earth, including state-protected montane purple pitcher plants and federally threatened swamp pinks. The Zoo Atlanta Horticulture Team has assisted the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy in efforts to restore a mountain bog in Georgia.
“Zoo Atlanta is thrilled to welcome new bog turtle hatchlings. Not only is every hatch vital to the remaining population of this critically endangered species, but this news also shines an important spotlight on efforts to preserve Georgia wildlife and wild environments,” said Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD, Vice President of Collections and Conservation. “People sometimes think of biodiversity as a feature of faraway places on other continents, when in fact our own state is a hotbed of biodiversity.”
These hatches represent a notable breeding success for Zoo Atlanta and follow another successful hatching from the same parents in summer 2022. The new hatchlings are currently housed behind the scenes in the Zoo’s Georgia eXtremes building, where their parents and another adult female also reside. When they are larger, it is hoped that the new arrivals may join their older sibling on public view in Georgia eXtremes, which highlights animals and interpretive messaging devoted to Georgia native reptiles and amphibians.
Thousands of American turtles are illegally shipped or smuggled abroad each year, often crudely hidden in luggage, stuffed in socks, or otherwise disguised. Through this trade, turtles from the U.S. are sold internationally in other countries, where demand for food, traditional medicines, and pets has reduced local turtle harvests. These activities have caused turtles worldwide to experience greater recent population declines than any other class of vertebrate.
To learn more about conservation programs and partnerships at Zoo Atlanta, visit zooatlanta.org/conservation.