Slow and steady, Mr. Pickles.
A tortoise in Texas has become a first-time dad at 90 years old, the Houston Zoo announced last week.
Mr. Pickles is a radiated tortoise who is the oldest animal at the Houston Zoo. He and his partner, 53-year-old Mrs. Pickles, have welcomed three hatchlings. The eggs hatched on different days in early and mid-February, the zoo confirmed to USA TODAY.
Those “baby pickles” have been named Dill, Gherkin and Jalapeño (of course). The three hatchlings “will remain behind the scenes” in the Houston Zoo’s Reptile & Amphibian House until they grow big enough to join their parents, the zoo said in a Thursday release.
A critically endangered species
The births are an especially “big dill” because radiated tortoises, which are native to Madagascar, are critically endangered. The reptile, which produces few offspring, is notably targeted by over-collection for illegal pet trade, zoo officials said.
According to the Houston Zoo, Mr. Pickles is also considered “the most genetically valuable radiated tortoise in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan,” an initiative of programs that work to manage the breeding and sustainability of certain species.
A surprise birth
The Pickles’ hatchlings were a surprise, the zoo said. A herpetology keeper “happened upon” Mrs. Pickles while she was laying her eggs in October. The animal care team then quickly uncovered the eggs and moved them into the Reptile & Amphibian House.
“The soil in Houston isn’t hospitable to the Madagascar native tortoises, and 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 wrote.
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Mr. Pickles has been at the Houston Zoo for 36 years, the zoo said, and Mrs. Pickles arrived several years later, in 1996. The two have been companions ever since.
Each of the Pickles’ three baby tortoises can be distinguished by their shells. “Jalapeño has the darkest shell of the three tortoises. Dill and Gherkin have a lighter shell, but Gherkin has a white dot marked on the center of its shell,” the zoo wrote.
In addition to the three hatchlings born last month, Mrs. Pickles has another offspring, the zoo confirmed to USA TODAY.
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