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Rare creatures hatch out of egg in 1 in 3000 event: 'Somebody’s messed up'

Researchers had to count the turtle babies again after discovering seven had hatched out of six eggs.

The chances of two baby Bell's turtles springing out of a single egg are extremely slim. A niche, Australian hatchery had raised and released 3000 of the tiny endangered reptiles until they saw it occur for the first time just two weeks ago.

University of New England PhD candidate Louise Streeting told Yahoo News there was nothing unusual about the way this particular egg had been incubated. It had been kept at a constant 27 degrees for 60 days and monitored very closely.

“This particular box had six eggs, but seven babies came out. I thought somebody’s messed up here,” she said.

Left: Dozens of turtle eggs in plastic boxes from above. Right: A close up of the eggs.
A rare one in 3,000 event occurred at an endangered turtle hatchery in NSW. Source: Lou Streeting

After looking more closely at the hatchlings, the penny dropped as to why there was one extra. “They were two of 24 for that female. Two of the babies were quite small and turned out to be twins. All the others are six grams, but these were only three grams.”

Why the twin turtles were so small

Unlike mammal embryos which get nutrients passing through the placenta throughout their development, reptiles have to share all of the resources inside the egg. Although the Bell's turtle twins were quite small, they were deemed okay to release back into the wild on Tuesday.

“They should be just fine. With turtles, as the mother gets older and bigger, she has a larger number of eggs, and the eggs tend to be a little bit bigger as well. So those little twins aren't that much smaller than some small hatchlings from a younger female,” Streeting said.

The twin turtles being held in gloved hands, along with their egg.
The twin turtles hatched out of a single egg (held here in gloved hands) two weeks ago and were released into the wild yesterday. Source: Lou Streeting

More weird egg finds

How researchers are working to save rare Bell's turtles

Bell’s turtles have an extremely restricted distribution, and occur in just five places on the New England Tablelands in NSW. Those populations are in trouble, because up to 97 per cent of turtle nests are raided by invasive foxes which eat the eggs.

"Foxes are just incredibly intelligent and very efficient predators. They're not supposed to be here, so they're just wreaking havoc on our native wildlife," Streeting said.

The twin turtles (right) compared to a sibling (left). They are much smaller in size.
The twin turtles (right) were half the size of their siblings (left). Source: Lou Streeting

The majority of the waterways the turtles live in wind through agricultural land, and Streeting works with property owners to monitor them. Her team sets up electric fences to keep foxes out and collects eggs which can be safely incubated away from predators.

Although raising the turtles to adulthood would result in less mortality once the reptiles are released, into the wild, doing so would be costly and labour intensive. The team are monitoring the number of hatchlings that survive into adulthood after release, to help determine the success of the program as it stands.

You can follow the work of Streeting and the Turtles Forever Project here.

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