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A green tree python coils itself around a branch at Shedd Aquarium.

Reptiles

Scaly skin is the secret to reptiles’ success on land as well as in the water. Tough and versatile, scales form a waterproof layer for aquatic species like alligators and sea turtles while keeping land-dwelling turtles, lizards and snakes from drying out. Caiman lizards add another element to the mix: They’re equally agile in the water and in the trees, where they pick off apple snails.

A staff member holds two Blanding's turtles at the Shedd Aquarium.

A turtle head start

Slowly growing behind the scenes, 24 Blanding's turtle hatchlings are at the aquarium as part of a head-start program with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Endangered in Illinois, Blanding's turtles are reliant on head-start programs like this for survival, due to extensive population decline in previous years caused by habitat loss/degradation, predation and collecting for the pet trade.

These hatchlings will remain at the aquarium for one year until they reach the appropriate size and weight to be released back into the wild at a protected site in a DuPage County forest preserve. Then the process will begin again with a new set of hatchlings.

Snails are the perfect snack for caiman lizards, whose powerful jaws help them crunch down on shelled prey.

“Working with caiman lizards can be very exciting. They can catch onto things very quickly and surprise you when you don’t expect it. Above all, it’s like working with little dinosaurs every day. What could be cooler than that? ”

Jim Watson, senior aquarist
Dr. Matt O'Connor applies a green marking to the shell of a radiated tortoise while on a rescue mission in Madagascar.

Caring for tortoises around the world

When 10,000 endangered radiated tortoises were discovered in desperate conditions in Madagascar, Shedd's Animal Response Team jumped to help partners offer emergency care.

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