Over the past week, four painted terrapins hatched at the Houston Zoo. It’s the first time the Zoo has hatched painted terrapin turtles, one of the 25 most endangered species of turtles in the world. Painted terrapins are a medium-sized to large turtle species and inhabit the rivers in Southeast Asia. At the Houston Zoo, the adults can be seen at the Wortham World of Primates, in the water and on the shore, of the orangutan moat.
The success in hatching this species was a collaborative effort between the primate, water quality, veterinary, and herpetology departments. The primate keepers, along with the veterinarians, watch over the painted terrapin adults in the orangutan moat while the herpetology keepers monitored the incubation process. The careful year-round maintenance of the water temperature, by the water quality team, allowed the turtles to reproduce.
The reptiles can only live in freshwater, or brackish water with low salinity, as they cannot excrete salt from their bodies. Throughout much of the year their grey/brown coloring matches their swampy surroundings for protection. During breeding season, the males become quite colorful, and their shells will lighten to reveal bold marking. Their grey heads turn white with a bright red stripe between their eyes, giving them a ‘painted’ appearance. They have an upturned snout which makes it easier for them to feed on vegetation floating on the surface of the water.
In the wild, painted terrapin’s eggs and meat are hunted and sold for human consumption. Another threat to their survival is pollution and habitat destruction. The Houston Zoo saves painted terrapins in the wild by providing support for local Indonesians to conduct protection work in Sumatra. The Zoo supports Indonesian conservation professionals who watch over and protect wild painted terrapins and their nests, and restore and replant terrapin habitat. In 2020, the Zoo supported work that protected more than 550 painted terrapin eggs in 33 nests in Indonesia. Just by visiting the Houston Zoo, guests are helping save this incredible species.