The National Aquarium in Baltimore has seven tiny new arrivals—the first sandstone long-neck turtles ever known to hatch in captivity.
Sandstone long-necks are a freshwater species native to Australia’s Northern Territory, and yes, their necks are noticeably long. A pair of adults has been living in the Aquarium’s Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit since it opened in 2004. They’re likely to be the only representatives of the species outside of Australia, the Aquarium says.
In 2019, the exhibit’s curator, Ken Howell, challenged a team of herpetologists and aquarists onsite to see if they could encourage the turtle couple to reproduce. After the experts set up a nest and got the water temperature just right, the female sandstone long-neck laid a clutch of eggs on July 29, 2020.
“We believe these seven hatchlings to be the first at any zoo or aquarium,” says Howell, curator of the Australia and Rain Forest exhibits. “The successful reproduction of these turtles will allow the Aquarium to make significant contributions to the scientific knowledge of the species.”
Little is known about the sandstone long-neck due to the remoteness of their habitat. But herpetologists do know that females lay their eggs on land and play not role in caring for their young. So the Aquarium marked each egg, incubated them, and seven eggs hatched one by one from late October through December.
Upon hatching, they weighed just 10 grams, only one-third of an ounce, but have been gaining steadily since.
The baby turtles are in their own enclosures, behind the scenes for now, eating small piece of fish, worms and other invertebrates.
-Meg Walburn Viviano