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Tortoise Time

The Houston Zoo welcomed three tortoise hatchlings!

A tortoise stands on grass with palm trees in the background.

© prochym/

Mr. and Mrs. Pickles are radiated tortoises, like this one.

It’s celebration time at the Houston Zoo in Houston, Texas. In March 2023, the zoo welcomed three tortoise hatchlings (baby tortoises)!

The zoo’s two radiated tortoises, Mr. and Mrs. Pickles, are the dad and mom of the little ones. At age 90, Mr. Pickles is the oldest animal at the zoo. This is the first time he has become a dad. Experts say radiated tortoises can live to be more than 100 years old, but they don’t have very many young. In fact, one of the zoo’s herpetologists, or reptile experts, was surprised to see Mrs. Pickles laying three eggs.

Wild radiated tortoises live in Madagascar, which is an island country off the eastern coast of Africa. They bury their eggs in the soil to protect them until they hatch. But the soil in Houston is different from the soil in Madagascar. Experts knew that Mrs. Pickles’ eggs would not hatch without help from humans.

“The animal care team quickly went to work uncovering the eggs and getting them to the safety of the Reptile & Amphibian House,” the Houston Zoo wrote on its website.

© Jason Ondreicka/

Baby tortoises are called hatchlings.

The new hatchlings are named Jalapeño, Dill, and Gherkin. They’re not only cute. They’re also very important. In the wild, radiated tortoises are critically endangered, which means they are in danger of dying out. 

The zoo staff is getting to know the hatchlings. They’re easy to tell apart. Jalapeño has the darkest shell. Gherkin’s shell has a white dot in the middle. When the little tortoises get big enough, they’ll live with their parents. But they’re already part of the zoo’s family.

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Fun Fact

Closeup of a tortoise head with egg tooth

© Paul Starosta—Stone/Getty Images

Can you spot the egg tooth?

A tortoise grows a tooth, called an egg tooth, before it hatches. It uses the tooth to break the eggshell so that it can come out!

Turtle or Tortoise?

© Hotshotsworldwide, Jidewet/; Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Tortoises live on land. Other turtles, like the one on the right, live mostly in the water.

Is a tortoise the same as a turtle? Let’s find out.

All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. Many turtles live in the sea or in bodies of fresh water, like lakes. They go on land only to lay their eggs. Tortoises live on land all the time.

All turtles have a hard shell. A tortoise shell is rounded, like a dome. Turtles that live in water have flatter shells. Turtles also have flippers, or flattened feet. Both features help turtles swim.

Tortoises eat some meat but mostly grasses and leaves. Other turtles eat vegetation (plants) and meat. Depending on the species and where they live, turtles may eat worms, insects, jellyfish, and more.

Reptiles of All Kinds

Composite showing a snake, lizards, turtles, and a crocodile.

© JackF/

Did you know that turtles, snakes, and crocodiles are all reptiles? You can learn more about reptiles at Britannica School!

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Word of the Day


Part of speech:



: a recently hatched animal : a very young bird, fish, etc., that has just come out from an egg

Definitions provided by
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