NYTTS Seminar 2014

The New York Turtle and Tortoise Society presents

Seminar 2014

Saturday, May 17, 2014
Check-in 9:30 a.m.; Sessions 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.

The Arsenal, Central Park, 5th Avenue at 64th Street, New York City

Seminar 2014, the twenty-nineth NYTTS Annual Seminar, was held in the third floor Gallery in the Arsenal in Central Park on May 17. We enjoyed presentations by Tyler Lyson, Don Boyer, Bonnie Raphael, and Peter Pritchard.

Tyler Lyson

Don Boyer

Bonnie Raphael

Peter Pritchard

Photos by Anita Salzberg


Morning Session (10:00 a.m.–12:00 a.m.)

Welcome and Announcements

Tyler Lyson with well-preserved turtle fossil
Tyler Lyson
Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

“The Origin of the Turtle Body Plan”

Unlike humans and other vertebrates, which have flexible rib cages, the turtle’s unique body plan consists of the iconic immovable shell, with its shoulder and pelvic girdles located “inside” the ribcage. Within the shell the turtle has a novel, abdominal muscle–based lung ventilation mechanism.

    Dr. Lyson will discuss the bones that make up the turtle shell and its evolutionary history (that is, the sequence of events leading to the makeup of the shell and when they took place). He will explore the relationship of the shoulder girdle with the ribcage, and finally discuss the evolutionary origin of the lung ventilation mechanism found in turtles.

Dr. Tyler Lyson describes dinosaur digs as well as his focus on prehistoric turtle fossils. Howard Hughs Medical Institute video
Tyler Lyson is broadly interested in the anatomy and taxonomy of living and fossil turtles, paleoecological trends of turtles across the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary (the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs), the phylogenetic relationships of turtles, and the evolutionary origin of the turtle body plan.

     As an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, Tyler worked on the developmental origin of the turtle shell. He completed his Masters and Ph.D. work at Yale University, focusing on the evolutionary origin of the turtle shell. Currently a Peter Buck postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, Tyler is working on the evolutionary origin of the lung ventilation mechanism in turtles. He has published scientific papers on turtle evolution and development throughout geologic time, from early basal turtles of the Middle Permian (260 million years ago), to the oldest shelled turtle Proterochersis from the Triassic (215 mya), to turtle diversity during the age of the dinosaurs, to the anatomy of modern day turtles.

— Lunch —

Afternoon Session (2:00–5:00 p.m.)

Don Boyer in the nursery at the Bronx Zoo Reptile House.

Bonnie Raphael with Burmese Star Tortoise, Bagan, Myanmar

Photo © Rick Hudson

Don Boyer¹ and Bonnie Raphael²
¹Curator of Herpetology, WCS/Bronx Zoo
²Department Head for Wildlife Medicine, WCS/Bronx Zoo

“WCS Endangered Turtle Conservation Initiative”

More than half of the world’s 330 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises face extinction. Habitat loss and illegal trade—largely driven by demand from China, specifically for human consumption, traditional medicines, and the pet trade—are the leading causes of their plight.

     To address the extinction crisis, the Wildlife Conservation Society is working to ensure the continued survival of more than a dozen of the most endangered freshwater turtles and tortoise species. Some of these efforts are taking place at the Bronx Zoo, where experts are working to breed Roti Island snake-necked turtles, golden coin turtles, McCord’s box turtles, and yellow-headed box turtles. Eventually, WCS hopes to reintroduce some of these species to the wild and develop assurance colonies for others.

     In the Wall Street Journal video segment below, reporter Wendy Bounds goes behind the scenes at the World of Reptiles and speaks with WCS Zoos and Aquarium General Director Jim Breheny and Curator of Herpetology Don Boyer.

Don Boyer began persuing a lifelong interest in herpetology as a young boy, roaming the back woods of Maryland looking for box turtles. In the 5th grade he began volunteering at the Baltimore Zoo Reptile House and made up his mind to have a career in zoo herpetology. Don worked at the San Antonio Zoo, Dallas Zoo, and San Diego prior to joining the WCS team in 2011. He has a broad background in zoo herpetology, working with a tremendous diversity of species. Reptile husbandry, exhibit design, and collection management are his forté. He is a member of th e Turtle Survival Alliance and the IUCN Freshwater Turtle and Tortoise Specialist Group. It would be difficult to pick just one group of reptiles he prefers, but he has a worked extensively with a variety of turtle and tortoise species—ranging from giant Galápagos tortoises to diminutive species such as four-eyed turtles. The Bronx Zoo has a long history with chelonians, and Don is working to again build the collection with a focus toward smaller Asian species and also develop new facilities for increased capacity.

Bonnie Raphael is Department Head for Wildlife Medicine at the Bronx Zoo. She is well known for her work with chelonians both from publications and presentations. She has experience with both wild and captive chelonians in Asia, Africa, and North America. She is the veterinary advisor for the Radiated Tortoise Species Survival Plan, is on the TSA Field Conservation Committee, and is a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. She has worked with a variety of taxa, implementing protocols for safe reintroduction of animals to the wild, most recently the Burmese star tortoises in Myanmar.

Peter Pritchard at his home with alligator snapping turtle
Peter C. H. Pritchard
Director, Chelonian Research Institute, Oviedo, Florida

Bostami, Vishnu, and Walter:
An Exploration of the Tangled Destinies of Turtles and Man

From “The Turtle Planet” — A Film Project by Peter Pritchard

“The Turtle Planet,” a documentary series for television compiled in 1990, captures the unexpected and often exotic lifestyles and environments of the diverse turtles of the world. Renowned turtle biologist Dr. Peter C. H. Pritchard takes us on some of his exciting and sometimes bizarre expeditions to the most dramatic turtle places in the world.

     In Part One of the series, Bostami, Vishnu, and Walter, we explore the spiritual connection that Hindus, Buddhists, and Moslems all have with turtles as we travel through India, Bangladesh, and Thailand. We contrast the turtles’ passive lifestyle with man’s aggressive behavior, and conclude that man himself may be merely temporary, and that turtles may yet outlive the human species. Dr. Pritchard will host the film and reflect on the status of chelonians since the series was created in 1990.

The Bostami pond and shrine of Sultan al-Arefin Hazrat Bayazid Bistami near Chittagong, Bangladesh, contains approx. 300 Black Softshell Turtles (Nilssonia nigricans). Photo by Peter C. H. Pritchard
Peter Pritchard, one of the world’s foremost experts on turtles and tortoises, is the Director of the Chelonian Research Institute in Oviedo, Florida. The Institute houses one of the largest collections of turtle specimens in the world. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Oxford and his Ph.D. from the University of Florida, where he studied marine turtles with Archie Carr as his major professor. He has studied turtles in many parts of the world, and for sev­eral decades has operated a field station in Guyana for protection of nesting marine turtles. Three species of turtle are named after him — a snake-necked turtle from New Guinea, a pond turtle from northern Burma, and a giant fossil sideneck turtle from Colombia. Peter has written nine books about turtles. He has been recognized as a “Champion of the Wild” by the Discovery Television Channel, and as a “Hero of the Planet” by Time Maga­zine (see video below). In 2001, he was declared “Flori­dian of the Year” by the Orlando Sentinel.

A Hero for the Planet ~ A brief tour of the Chelonian Research Institute in Oviedo, Florida
From GrowingBolder.com, A Hero for the Planet

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