Tortoise Love: The Pickles Family Adds 3 Kids to Houston Household

Mar 29, 2023

It’s not often that romantic companions wait a full 27 years before having kids, but Mr. and Mrs. Pickles are no ordinary couple. First, he is 90 years old. Second, she is no youngster at 53. And third, both are endangered radiated tortoises. The pair emigrated from Madagascar to the Houston Zoo.

Zoo officials say they were simply shocked by the recent birth of the Pickles’ three hatchlings. The babies have been named Dill, Gherkin, and Jalapeño. Mr. Pickles has lived at the zoo for 36 years. Mrs. Pickles arrived at the zoo in 1996.

Radiated tortoises can live for up to 150 years. But it’s unknown how long they can reproduce, a zoo spokesperson told The New York Times. The current answer would seem to be at least 53 years for a female and 90 for a male.

The hatchlings’ birth is uncommon. Radiated tortoises are a critically endangered species. One reason that they have that status is they rarely have offspring.

If a zoo worker hadn’t spotted Mrs. Pickles when she was laying her eggs and burying them in the soil, the hatchlings likely would not have survived. Their zoo space isn't made to keep hatchlings alive. They need a temperature and humidity that is like a radiated tortoise’s native habitat. So, after the eggs were laid, workers quickly moved them to the Reptile and Amphibian House.

For now, the trio of new tortoises is living behind closed doors, zookeepers say. They will move back in with their parents when they’re old enough to survive in the Pickles’ everyday space. 

Photo by Kyle Bedell courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Which of the following details best explains why zookeepers were surprised by the recent birth of Pickles’ hatchlings? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. radiated tortoises are endangered
b. radiated tortoises can live up to 150 years
c. radiated tortoises rarely breed
d. radiated tortoises are native to Madagascar
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