Twenty tiny hatchlings are here and they’re turtley cool

Twenty tiny hatchlings are here and they’re turtley cool

The Oregon Zoo has 20 reasons to shell-ebrate this fall as 20 baby western pond turtles settle in. Smaller than a nickel, the hatchlings are extremely vulnerable to predators. To give them a fighting chance, the tiny turtles are collected from the wild and reared in the zoo’s turtle conservation lab until they’re big enough to go back to the pond.

“Baby turtles are really small when they hatch, so they’re the perfect size for a lot of animals to eat,” said Shelly Pettit, the zoo’s senior keeper for reptiles and amphibians. “And the biggest problem they have right now are the invasive, or introduced, bullfrogs — they prey on turtle hatchlings right out of the nest.”

Native to the eastern United States but considered invasive here, the American bullfrog is the largest frog species on the continent. It can tip the scales at more than a pound and has been driving pond turtles and a host of other small, vulnerable aquatic species to the brink of extinction.

Last month, Pettit and her colleagues helped Washington Fish and Wildlife collect 20 western pond turtle hatchlings from sites in the Columbia Gorge. The zoo is “head-starting” these tiny turtles, caring for them until next spring when they will be large enough to avoid the bullfrogs and hold their own in the wild.

“We keep these little turtles warm, safe and well-fed in the lab,” Pettit said. “As a result, they grow to about the size of a 3-year-old turtle during the time they stay with us.”

Unlike Oregon Zoo recovery programs for other endangered species like California condors or Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies — which take place offsite or behind the scenes — this conservation effort is easy for guests to see. Oregon Zoo visitors can watch the small turtles as they grow inside the zoo’s Nature Exploration Station.

For more Oregon Zoo information, visit oregonzoo.org.