Rare Tortoise Hatches in Deserts
Weighing half an ounce, the hatchling is the first of its species born at the Zoo

Rare Northern Spider Tortoise Hatches in Deserts


Published April 27, 2021

We’re thrilled to introduce the newest member of our Deserts family, a rare northern spider tortoise! 

When she hatched in February, the tiny female tortoise weighed just half an ounce — about the size of a single AA lithium battery. The fragile hatchling will remain behind the scenes in Deserts until she grows a little larger.

The first of her species ever hatched here at the Indianapolis Zoo, this birth is also a victory for the conservation of this beautiful species, as spider tortoises are critically endangered in the wild in Madagascar.

When a spider tortoise egg is laid in the wild, it goes through a unique period of suspended development called diapause. By remaining inactive during the coldest part of the year, the egg can then grow when the weather warms up, allowing the baby tortoise to hatch during peak environmental conditions. After our egg was laid in October 2020, Zookeepers replicated that process by carefully lowering the temperature and closely monitoring the egg for four weeks to kickstart development. From there, the egg was incubated at 88 degrees for 120 days until our hatchling emerged from her shell.

Northern spider tortoises are named for the intricate, web-like pattern of yellow lines on its dark shell, called a carapace. Unfortunately, these beautiful animals, as well as other tortoise species in Madagascar, have become a target for illegal poachers and their populations are decreasing in the wild. To support tortoise conservation in the wild, the Zoo sent Deserts Keeper Andrew Ahl to Madagascar in 2018 to help rehabilitate rescued tortoises. Watch his story.

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