Biologists recently documented one of nature’s least-known, big events. On the banks of the Purus River in the Brazilian Amazon, researchers witnessed the mass-hatching of an estimated 210,000 giant South American river turtles (Podocnemis expansa). The giant South American river turtle, or Arrau, is the world’s largest side-necked turtle and can grow up to 80 centimeters long (nearly three feet).
Researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation marked and released 15,000 (around 7 percent) of the newly-born hatchlings in the Abufari Biological Reserve. Future surveys of the species will allow researchers to collect data on the individually-marked turtles in an effort to better protect them in the future.
Only a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of hatchlings are expected to survive to adult. Mass-hatching is a strategy used by some other turtle species, most famously sea turtles, in order to overwhelm predators and allowing a small number to squeak into adulthood.
A giant South American river turtle hatchling emerges from its shell. Photo by: C. Ferrara/Wildlife Conservation Society.
“Turtles are among the most endangered species of vertebrates in the region and worldwide,” notes Julie Kunen, Executive Director of WCS’s Latin America and the Caribbean Program. “Monitoring programs for these and other turtles and tortoises will provide a foundation for sound management plans in the years to come.”
Although listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List, the giant South America side-necked turtle is imperiled by overconsumption of its meat and eggs by local people. It has not been formally evaluated by the IUCN since 1996.
Researchers used a fence to contain the turtle hatchlings emerging from identified nests in order to mark and release many of the turtles to keep tabs on the population. Photo by: C. Ferrara/Wildlife Conservation Society.
The mass hatching event in Brazil’s Abufari Biological Reserve. Photo by: C. Ferrara/Wildlife Conservation Society.
Mass hatching event. Photo by: C. Ferrara/Wildlife Conservation Society.
A lucky adult giant South American river turtle. Few of the hundreds of thousands of hatchlings will ever make it to adulthood. Photo by: C. Ferrara/Wildlife Conservation Society.
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