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Coahuilan Box Turtle
Terrapene coahuila



The Coahuila Box Turtle is the most aquatic of all box turtles. This primitive Chelonian lives in only one place in the world - Cuatro Cienegas ("four marshes") - in the state of Coahuila in northern Mexico. Their diet consists entirely of insects and submerged plants. Scattered throughout the Chihuahua Desert are numerous cienegas, small isolated wetlands, that support populations of various types of plants and animals one would not typically associate with desert communities.  

Because of its rarity, narrow distribution, and endangered status, the Coahuila Box Turtle is recognized as the flagship species of these fast disappearing habitats. During the last 50 years an extensive canal system has been developed to expand local farming operations. Because of this, the marshes and ponds used by the turtles are drying up. Accordingly, the turtle populations have declined and there is now little reproduction in the remaining wild population. There are only about 100 adult Coahuila Box Turtles in captivity. These breeding programs are some of the few options left to insure their survival until a time when their original habitat can be restored. 

In cooperative efforts with the Tortoise Reserve, the Gladys Porter Zoo, and the University of Juarez in Mexico, the Chiricahua Desert Museum has joined in an ongoing conservation program for the Coahuila Box Turtle to double the number of breeding adults held in captivity. Young produced from the turtles housed the the Museum and from our partners' facilities will be raised to a size where they will be less vulnerable to predators and released into their natural habitat.

These range in everything from scattered populations of species that are widespread and abundant in less arid habitats outside of this vast desert, to species found nowhere else in the world. Because of complex zoogeographic histories that predate the formation of our western deserts, a number of these relict species are confined to a single cienega. The various creatures living in the Chihuahua Desert totally depend on these wetland refuges. Inhabitants include fairy shrimp, toads, frogs, skinks, water snakes, softshell turtles and a number of species of birds.

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