Chattanooga Zoo Researchers Discover Turtle Subspecies

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Chattanooga Zoo Researchers Discover Turtle Subspecies

Post  Admin on Tue May 15, 2012 9:08 am

The Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell Turtle, was found in a tributary in the Conasauga River.
The Chattanooga Zoo announced the exciting discovery of a turtle never before documented in Tennessee. The turtle, called the Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell Turtle, was found in a tributary in the Conasauga River.

The Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell is a subspecies of the more prevalent Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle found throughout Tennessee. Chattanooga Zoo researchers, Rick Jackson and David Hedrick, were in the process of looking for multiple reptile and amphibian species that had never been officially recorded in Bradley County when the Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell Turtle was discovered. Mr. Hedrick said, “We are very excited about our new resident here in the state. The last time a new turtle was found in Tennessee was in 1986 when threatened Bog Turtles were discovered in Northeast Tennessee”.



When contacted about the Zoo’s discovery, Dr. A. Floyd Scott, Dept. of Biology at Austin Peay University said that, “David Hedrick and Rick Jackson’s discovery of the Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera aspera) is significant because it adds a new taxon to the vertebrate fauna of Bradley County and, more importantly, to the state of Tennessee. Their find, coupled with a preserved specimen (recently confirmed as the Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell) in the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences that was collected in 1974 from the Conasauga River in eastern Bradley County, suggest there is an established population there that has been overlooked until now”.

The spotting of this subspecies is especially momentous because soft shelled turtles are an extremely wary aquatic species that disappear at the first sign of danger. They spend a great deal of time buried in the stream bottom, waiting to ambush prey. Their neck is long and they have a tiny pig-like nose which allows them to stretch up to the surface and breathe while the rest of their body remains buried in the sand and mud.

Rick Jackson, director of Ectotherms at the Chattanooga Zoo noted how “the assessment of this population of turtles in Tennessee is one of several conservation initiatives currently underway within the Chattanooga Zoo’s Reptile and Amphibian department”. The plan is for the Chattanooga Zoo to continue these critical conservation efforts.

The Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell turtle discovered by Zoo researchers was a female measuring 18 inches in length. These turtles can live to be 50 years or more.
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