As a Zoo professional, animal care duties sometimes extend beyond the normal 8 to 5 p.m. timeframe and through the holidays. To provide the best possible care to our Zoo animals, our staff is available around the clock when needed. Most of the time when we get called to the Zoo in the middle of the night, it is because of a power outage, but earlier this month, it was because of something a little more exciting!
On December 2, I received a call at around 12:45 a.m. from one of our attentive, overnight security team members, Alfredo Lopez. On a routine check of the temperatures in the Island Life building, he noticed several eggs around one of our Galapagos tortoises. It is not uncommon for animals of this size to accidentally crush eggs that are laid. Because this particular female, Ellie, had decided that the area around the indoor pool was the best place to lay her eggs, rather than lay them in the indoor sand stall, we were worried that she might either crush or roll them into the pool. So, I changed out of my pajamas and came straight to the Zoo and arrived at around 1 a.m. Normally, females will dig test holes or “nests” in which to lay the eggs, but there was no indication that Ellie was gravid (expecting), nor were there any eggs present when the animal care staff left the building at 5 p.m. on Friday. Due to the freshness of the eggs, I suspected that they had been laid within a few hours of me arriving to the Zoo. Ellie laid a total of 11 eggs that night, but I was able to collect six that seemed in good condition and place them in the incubator at the Herpetarium.
In the wild, eggs have varying incubation times from 3-8 months dependent on when during the year the eggs are laid. Here at the Zoo, in the past, our Galapagos tortoise eggs have hatched after a 100-120 day incubation period, so we should expect to see any fertile eggs to hatch by the end of February, or beginning of March next year. If we are able to hatch any from this clutch, the hatchlings will be raised here at the Zoo and then eventually may be transferred to another institution that is involved with the Galapagos tortoise Species Survival Plan. Females can produce eggs on a yearly basis, so if these eggs turn out to be infertile, there is always next year!
– Stacey Sekscienski, Curator of Herpetology