HOUSTON (KIAH) — Apparently, turtles can become fathers well into old age. That’s what happened recently with a 90-year-old radiated tortoise at the Houston Zoo.
Mr. Pickles is the first-time father of three hatchlings after a surprise egg-laying. A zoo resident for 36 years, Mr. Pickles is the oldest animal there.
According to a statement from the zoo, a herpetology keeper happened upon Mrs. Pickles, the companion of Mr. Pickles, as she was laying eggs at closing time.
Houston’s soil isn’t friendly to the Madagascar tortoises, so the zoo’s animal care team quickly uncovered the eggs and got them to safety.
“It’s unlikely the eggs would have hatched on their own if the keeper hadn’t been in the right place at the right time,” the zoo explained.
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Mr. and Mrs. Pickles have been together since the new mom’s arrival in 1996, the zoo said.
The new additions — named Dill, Gherkin and Jalapeño — will be kept out of the public eye in the Reptile & Amphibian House until they are big enough to safely join their parents, the zoo said.
Radiated tortoises, which are native to the southern and southwestern parts of Madagascar, are critically endangered due to over-collection to supply the illegal pet trade.
They are known to produce few offspring, and according to Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, incubation of their eggs usually lasts from five to eight months.