Thursday, 10 May 2012

Chattanooga Zoo researchers discover turtle subspecies

CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) – The Chattanooga Zoo announced Thursday the 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.  

"We are very excited about our new resident here in the state," said Hedrick. "The last time a new turtle was found in Tennessee was in 1986 when threatened Bog Turtles were discovered in Northeast Tennessee". 

Biologist Dr. A. Floyd Scott at Austin Peay Univsersity characterized the discovery as "significant" because it adds a new taxon to the vertebrate fauna of Bradley County and to the Tennessee region.
"Their find, coupled with a preserved specimen 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," Dr. Scott added.

Zoo officials explain 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. 
Director of Ectotherms Rick Jackson 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 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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