Our blog followers are well aware of our efforts to rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles each fall. Behind the scenes at the Aquarium, some unique species of fresh water turtles are also getting a leg up. The long-running head start program helps native turtles by growing tiny hatchlings in the safety of an aquarium over the winter until they're big enough to fend for themselves in the wild come the spring.
Recently, the Aquarium welcomed the newest generation of the northern red-bellied cooters into the head-start program. As you can see in this video, they are only the size of a silver dollar right now.
These little guys will grow big and strong on a diet of lettuce and occasional protein pellets over the next eight months. When they're released next May, they will be about the size of a grapefruit. It would take two years for turtles in the wild to reach that size! In the meantime, these turtles will join the troupe of animals seen during Live Animal Presentations just as soon as they're big enough.
Not to be confused with red-eared sliders or painted turtles, red-bellied cooters are found in the mid-Atlantic states from New Jersey through North Carolina. They are also found in a small pocket of Massachusetts near Plymouth, although this population faces formidable threats due to habitat loss. About 30 years ago, there were estimated to be only about 300 animals left. However, with the help of U.S. Fish and Wildlife and many other local institutions, the Aquarium has been helping to raise red-bellied cooters as part of this head start program. There are an estimated 3,000 turtles today!
So if you're out and about exploring freshwater habitats near Plymouth, keep an eye out for a northern red-bellied cooter. That turtle could have been raised right here at the Aquarium!
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