The Houston Zoo is thrilled that its oldest resident, Mr. Pickles — a 90-year-old radiated tortoise — is now a first-time dad.
On Thursday, the zoo proudly announced the beloved reptile welcomed three flawlessly named hatchlings — Dill, Gherkin and Jalapeño — with his partner, 53-year-old Mrs. Pickles.
Mr. and Mrs. Pickles have been a couple for nearly 30 years, with the pair becoming companions upon her arrival at the zoo in 1996, according to the zoo’s announcement blog post. Mr. Pickles has lived at the Houston Zoo for 36 years.
“The new hatchlings came as a surprise when a herpetology keeper happened upon Mrs. Pickles as the tortoise was laying her eggs at closing time. The animal care team quickly went to work uncovering the eggs and getting them to the safety of the Reptile & Amphibian House,” the zoo said in its blog post.
The arrival of the hatchlings is especially monumental considering radiated tortoises typically live only 40 to 50 years and are known to produce few offspring, zoo officials say.
Since the soil in Houston isn’t favorable to the Madagascar native tortoises, the zoo said that it’s “unlikely the eggs would have hatched on their own if the keeper hadn’t been in the right place at the right time.”
Cutely describing the moment as a “big dill,” the zoo also stated that first-time father Mr. Pickles is considered the most genetically valuable radiated tortoise in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium Species Survival Plan, which helps manage the ex-situ species population.
As a critically endangered species, radiated tortoises, which are native to southern Madagascar, have decreased due to loss of habitat and mistreatment from the illegal pet trade.
The newborn trio is set to remain “behind the scenes” in protective care in the Reptile & Amphibian House until they grow large enough to join their parents safely.