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If you give a black-breasted turtle a hibiscus...

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

If you give a black-breasted leaf turtle a hibiscus...she might ask for another petal!

Part of Alyssa Borek’s job as Day Exhibit keeper is to ensure all of her residents get a variety of food and enrichment items. Sometimes this means giving an animal a new palatable experience; such was the case with this sweet, little black-breasted leaf turtle and her hibiscus dinner.

Video: Black-breasted leaf turtle snacks on hibiscus. Video by Alyssa Borek/Woodland Park Zoo.

The adorable clip above shows a tiny taste-test starring our black-breasted leaf turtle, Geoemyda spengleri, and her appetite for a hibiscus petal. Four stars to the chef!

Day Exhibit keeper, Alyssa, answers a few questions about this daring culinary adventure…

What does this turtle usually eat in the wild?
In the wild, these turtles eat various invertebrates, such as insects, worms, and grubs. They also eat decaying fruit found on the forest floor and venture into streams to collect insect larvae.

What is the normal diet at the zoo? 
At the zoo, these turtles dine primarily on insects with occasional fruits, vegetables and sometimes flowers.

Alyssa, why did you decide to give her the hibiscus? 
When enrichment items are available, I try to rotate which animals receive them to provide a greater variety to the largest portion of the collection as possible. In rotating among the animals of the collection, this ensures that none of the animals receive any enrichment item too frequently; this increases the value of the enrichment to the individual animals.

When was the first time she tried the flower? 
I believe this was the first time she was offered hibiscus flowers.

What was her reaction? 
She really seemed to enjoy the flower; the video shows her eating a second petal! (The first was consumed before I started recording).

Where was the hibiscus from? 
Our horticulture department provides us flowers when available, usually hibiscus and occasionally orchids for use as enrichment. We also harvest clover and dandelion as well as other standard browse greens to occasionally offer the herbivores in our collection.

A black-breasted leaf turtle hatchling next to its shell. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Did we try giving her any more plants/flowers? If so, which does she prefer? 
I have tried offering them blueberries and other greens. This female is more adventurous than the male she is housed with and will often try the new items. She enjoyed the blueberry, rolling it around for a little while before she was able to grasp it with her beak.

Are there any more interesting changes to the leaf turtle diet? 
As novel enrichment items become available, they are offered to her as well as the rest of the appropriate animals in the collection. They have been offered roaches, snails, slugs, wax worms, and two different types of mealworms in addition to the cricket and earthworm feeds.

Looks just like a wet leaf! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Where does the black-breasted leaf turtle live? 
You can find the black-breasted leaf turtle in Southeast Asia, where they live in forested areas near streams. At the zoo, they live in the Day Exhibit.

How many black-breasted leaf turtles do we have at the zoo? 
We have a pair on exhibit in the Day Exhibit, and an additional four off exhibit, including a baby hatched here July 2012.  

The black-breasted leaf turtle’s jagged shell helps it camouflage as a leaf on the forest floor. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The black-breasted leaf turtle is one of the smallest in the world, at about five inches long. They have a unique and beautiful shell with rough edges which resemble a leaf. These turtles don’t have teeth, but they do have a beak-like bite!

Black-breasted leaf turtle are threatened due to habitat destruction and over collection. They are also used in traditional Chinese medicine, and are often sold as pets.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/ Woodland Park Zoo.

Black-breasted leaf turtles have uniquely large eyes that lend the species their expressive look! Compare an adult (top) and a young hatchling (below).

Photo by Ryan Hawk/ Woodland Park Zoo.

Visit the Day Exhibit and check out our tiniest turtles!


Sonja Rosas said…
I love when you guys feature the little animals less well known to the general public. Lions and bears and elephants are awesome but so are pretty little turtles from China.

Thanks for the natural history!