At 90, Mr. Pickles the radiated tortoise is the oldest animal at the Houston Zoo. And now, the elderly reptile is also the newest father on the zoo’s premises.
Mr. Pickles has sired three hatchlings named Dill, Gherkin, and Jalapeño. The hatchlings’ mother is Mrs. Pickles, a 53-year-old tortoise that arrived at the zoo in 1996. The 37-year age gap between the reptilian parents is somewhat Murdochian, but with the recent copulation, Mr. Pickles has proven himself more virile than most 90-year-old humans.
Earlier this month, a herpetology keeper at the zoo happened upon Mrs. Pickles as she was laying the eggs, which were swiftly recovered and brought to the Reptile & Amphibian house. The petite tortoises are being raised in the house until they’re large enough to rejoin their parents.
The eggs were scooped up by zoo staff because Houston’s soil isn’t ideal for safekeeping (the tortoises make burrows for their egg clutches.) Thankfully, the three little tortoises hatched without issue, and, along with Mrs. Pickles, they are in good health.
Radiated tortoises can grow shells up to 16 inches long and weigh up to 35 pounds, according to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
The radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) is a critically endangered species native to Madagascar, but it has been introduced on the islands of Réunion and Mauritius. Habitation destruction and poaching (for exploitation in the pet trade) are the primary causes of the species’ endangered status.
Copulation can be a difficult thing to induce between two tortoises. Despite years of trying to get Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise, to mate, the endling died without a hatchling in 2012. That makes the recent radiated tortoise fornication all the merrier: it was unexpected.
Dill, Gherkin, and Jalapeño are distinguishable from one another due to the unique marks on their carapaces. Dill and Gherkin have lighter shells than Jalapeño, and Gherkin’s has a white mark at its center, according to a Houston Zoo release.
Radiated tortoises can live well over a century, so Mr. Pickles has plenty more runway for spending time with his kids—who themselves will certainly live into the next century, with proper care.