This two week old tortoise was hatched on May 10 in an off exhibit area. Keepers are closely monitoring it and report that is thriving and growing well. It is planned for an on-exhibit debut in the summer.
Keepers have been unable to determine the gender of the tortoise at this point.
National Zoo took on a pair of adult tortoises during January 2014. This was part of a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan. Unlike most reptiles who lay all their eggs in one clutch all at the same time spider tortoises lay one egg at a time over many months.
The zoo’s female laid an egg in August 2014 which did not hatch. In September another egg was laid which led to this hatchling emerging. Another egg laid in September 2014 is still being incubated.
Breeding spider tortoises in captivity is not easy but it is important. These critically endangered tortoises need to have their eggs incubated for a time then cooled off and then finally incubated again so the embryo develops properly. Keepers are gathering information on their breeding experiences to share with other zoos that are trying to breed these tortoises.
Spider tortoises are native to Madagascar where they live on the sandy coastline. Wildlife trafficking for food and the pet trade along with habitat loss have seen populations decline by 80% since 1907.
Photo Credits: Smithsonian National Zoo