The spider tortoise (Pyxis arachnoides), which is usually found around the southwestern coast of Madagascar, has been successfully bred at Paignton Zoo in Devon.
The zoo is home to two male and two female spider tortoises, which range in age from 11 to 22 years and are about six inches long.
Not much is known about the life cycle of the burrowing tortoise, but it is thought to live for up to 70 years and is classed as critically endangered.
Its name comes from the spider’s web-like patterns on its shell.
To get the reptiles to breed, keeper Andrew Meek had to mimic the natural seasonal changes the adult animals would experience in the wild, with all the corresponding fluctuations in weather and diet.
This included spraying the tortoises with water to simulate rainfall.
One of the critical elements is a period of brumation – a hibernation-like state during cooler times of year – after which mating tends to occur.
One single egg was laid and hatched on 25 April after roughly 180 days of incubation by staff in a special custom-made incubator.
The baby tortoise will be reared by staff and sent on to another zoo when it is ready.
“This is a great achievement for all the team, but I must congratulate keeper Andrew Meek,” said Luke Harding, curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates at the zoo.
“This is an excellent example of the hard work, evidence-based husbandry and attention to detail that brings success.
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“Andrew was the lead on this project and did all the hard work and research on how to cycle the animals and incubate the eggs, including the crucial cooling period.”
Mr Harding said the species is not thriving in the wild, and the more the zoo learns about breeding, the more it can contribute to effective conservation.