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Oh Sweet Baby Pickles

Oldest Houston Zoo Animal is a First-time Dad

Photo credit: Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo

At 90 years young, Mr. Pickles is the oldest animal at the Houston Zoo and first-time father after three radiated tortoise eggs hatched. These little Pickles are a big deal (big dill?) for radiated tortoise genetics as their father, Mr. Pickles, is the most genetically valuable radiated tortoise in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP). Mr. Pickles has been at the Zoo for 36 years and has been with his companion, Mrs. Pickles, since she arrived in 1996. The new tortoises have been named Dill, Gherkin, and Jalapeño and will remain behind the scenes in the Reptile & Amphibian House until they are big enough to safely join their parents 

Mr. Pickles

The new hatchlings came as a surprise when a herpetology keeper happened upon Mrs. Pickles as the tortoise was laying her eggs at closing time. The animal care team quickly went to work uncovering the eggs and getting them to the safety of the Reptile & Amphibian House. The soil in Houston isn’t hospitable to the Madagascar native tortoises, and it’s unlikely the eggs would have hatched on their own if the keeper hadn’t been in the right place at the right time.

Meet Dill, Gherkin, and Jalapeño (darker shell), Photo credit: Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo

Radiated tortoises are critically endangered from over-collection for the illegal pet trade and are known to produce few offspring. By visiting the Zoo, guests are helping save wild animals in Madagascar. A portion of each Zoo membership and admission goes toward helping the Zoo’s partners in Madagascar replant wildlife habitat to save animals in the wild.

Top Gherkin, right Jalapeño, bottom Dill; Photo credit: Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo

March 21, 2021–This post has been updated. A previous blog stated that Mr. Pickles sired a tortoise named Fluke with Mrs. Pickles. Further research indicates Fluke is the offspring of a different male radiated tortoise.