Distribution: Mexico (Cuatro Cienegas basin of Coahuila)
Type locality: "Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila," Mexico.
Chihuahuan Desert Habitat
This taxon is found in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is one of the most biologically diverse arid regions on Earth. This ecoregion extends from within the United States south into Mexico. This desert is sheltered from the influence of other arid regions such as the Sonoran Desert by the large mountain ranges of the Sierra Madres. This isolation has allowed the evolution of many endemic species; most notable is the high number of endemic plants; in fact, there are a total of 653 vertebrate taxa recorded in the Chihuahuan Desert. Moreover, this ecoregion also sustains some of the last extant populations of Mexican Prairie Dog, wild American Bison and Pronghorn Antelope.
The dominant plant species throughout the Chihuahuan Desert is Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata). Depending on diverse factors such as type of soil, altitude, and degree of slope, L. tridentata can occur in association with other species. More generally, an association between L. tridentata, American Tarbush (Flourensia cernua) and Viscid Acacia (Acacia neovernicosa) dominates the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. The meridional portion is abundant in Yucca and Opuntia, and the southernmost portion is inhabited by Mexican Fire-barrel Cactus (Ferocactus pilosus) and Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus polyacanthus). Herbaceous elements such as Gypsum Grama (Chondrosum ramosa), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and Hairy Grama (Chondrosum hirsuta), among others, become dominant near the Sierra Madre Occidental. In western Coahuila State, Lecheguilla Agave (Agave lechuguilla), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), Purple Prickly-pear (Opuntia macrocentra) and Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus) are the dominant vascular plants.
Because of its recent origin, few warm-blooded vertebrates are restricted to the Chihuahuan Desert scrub. However, the Chihuahuan Desert supports a large number of wide-ranging mammals, such as the Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), Robust Cottontail (Sylvilagus robustus EN); Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), Grey Fox (Unocyon cineroargentinus), Jaguar (Panthera onca), Collared Peccary or Javelina (Pecari tajacu), Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus auduboni), Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), Kangaroo Rats (Dipodomys sp.), pocket mice (Perognathus spp.), Woodrats (Neotoma spp.) and Deer Mice (Peromyscus spp). With only 24 individuals recorded in the state of Chihuahua Antilocapra americana is one of the most highly endangered taxa that inhabits this desert. The ecoregion also contains a small wild population of the highly endangered American Bison (Bison bison) and scattered populations of the highly endangered Mexican Prairie Dog (Cynomys mexicanus), as well as the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus).
The Chihuahuan Desert herpetofauna typifies this ecoregion.Several lizard species are centered in the Chihuahuan Desert, and include the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum); Texas Banded Gecko (Coleonyx brevis), often found under rocks in limestone foothills; Reticulate Gecko (C. reticulatus); Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus); several species of spiny lizards (Scelopoprus spp.); and the Western Marbled Whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris marmoratus). Two other whiptails, the New Mexico Whiptail (C. neomexicanus) and the Common Checkered Whiptail (C. tesselatus) occur as all-female parthenogenic clone populations in select disturbed habitats.
Representative snakes include the Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (Bogertophis subocularis), Texas Blackhead Snake (Tantilla atriceps), and Sr (Masticophis taeniatus) and Neotropical Whipsnake (M. flagellum lineatus). Endemic turtles include the Bolsón Tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila) and several species of softshell turtles. Some reptiles and amphibians restricted to the Madrean sky island habitats include the Ridgenose Rattlesnake (Crotalus willardi), Twin-spotted Rattlesnake (C. pricei), Northern Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis), Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus jarrovii), and Canyon Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus burti).
There are thirty anuran species occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert: Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Rana chircahuaensis); Red Spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus); Canyon Treefrog (Hyla arenicolor); Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans); Rio Grande Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides); Cliff Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus marnockii); Spotted Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus guttilatus); Tarahumara Barking Frog (Craugastor tarahumaraensis); Mexican Treefrog (Smilisca baudinii); Madrean Treefrog (Hyla eximia); Montezuma Leopard Frog (Lithobates montezumae); Brown's Leopard Frog (Lithobates brownorum); Yavapai Leopard Frog (Lithobates yavapaiensis); Western Barking Frog (Craugastor augusti); Mexican Cascade Frog (Lithobates pustulosus); Lowland Burrowing Frog (Smilisca fodiens); New Mexico Spadefoot (Spea multiplicata); Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons); Pine Toad (Incilius occidentalis); Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii); Couch's Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus couchii); Plateau Toad (Anaxyrus compactilis); Texas Toad (Anaxyrus speciosus); Dwarf Toad (Incilius canaliferus); Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea); Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus); Eastern Green Toad (Anaxyrus debilis); Gulf Coast Toad (Incilius valliceps); and Longfoot Chirping Toad (Eleutherodactylus longipes VU). The sole salamander occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert is the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum).
Common bird species include the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), Merlin (Falco columbarius), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and the rare Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus). Geococcyx californianus), Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostra), Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata), Scott’s Oriole (Icterus parisorum), Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata), Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), Worthen’s Sparrow (Spizella wortheni), and Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus). In addition, numerous raptors inhabit the Chihuahuan Desert and include the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) and the Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi).
Habitat and Ecology
T. coahuila is largely a resident species that does not disperse widely, as indicated by both natural history studies of this aquatic species in a desert environment, and the significant differences in genotypic composition of the populations at different sites in pairwise comparisons, indicating limited gene flow between sites (Howeth in litt. 24 Jan 2007).
T. coahuila feeds on almost equal proportions of aquatic and wind-blown insects and their larvae (54%) and plant matter (46%) (review by Dodd 2001).
Male Coahuila box turtles can reach up to 16.8 cm CL, females remain a little smaller (Dodd 2001). The size and age at maturity have apparently not been reported.
Average clutch size in captive animals varies between 3.8 and 5.0, and several clutches are produced per year (Tonge 1987, Cerda and Waugh 1992). The maximum reproductive output per female is about 11 eggs per year, but for about one-third of examined females it is as low as 6.8 eggs/year (Brown 1974 in Dodd 2001).
Life History and Behavior
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Terrapene coahuila
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
The genetic structure of the species indicates that the populations at various sites are largely isolated and the species thus qualifies as fragmented.
Population surveys indicate a steep decline in the total number of animals, from 148 animals per hectare of suitable habitat in the 1960s (when suitable habitat comprised hundreds of hectares, thus likely well over 10,000 mature animals) to about 2,500 mature animals in total in 2002-2003; at an estimated generation time of 15 years (by analogy with other Terrapene species and observed growth rates in captivity), this is a reduction of over 70% of mature animals in three generations. The species may also qualify under criterion C1, but more robust population studies are needed to confirm this.
- 1994Vulnerable(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Vulnerable(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
Date Listed: 06/04/1973
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Terrapene coahuila , see its USFWS Species Profile
In 2002, surveys of box turtle sites by a team including Brown (who studied the species 34 years previously) located the marshes where Brown worked in the 1960s. The survey indicates that the species has disappeared from about 40% of its former extent of occurrence, while remaining wetland areas within the area of occurrence have become less suitable (or unsuitable) as habitat for T. coahuila as a result of desiccation and altered vegetation structure (Howeth in litt 24 Jan 2007).
Roads, railroads, pipelines and other infrastructure for industrial, logistic, tourism and recreational purposes have impacted the ecosystem, and some of these environmental impacts continue. In the last decade it is known there has been tourist development, and farming expansion continues (Reuters 2007). Roads and fires have created direct-mortality impacts (Howeth in litt. 24 Jan 2007). There is a potential threat from the global pet trade (at least partly met by captive breeding, see Conservation Actions). Hybridization is not an issue for T. coahuila, in contrast to its sympatric turtle species.
The entire range of the species falls within the 843 sq. km Cuatro Cienegas Flora and Fauna Protection Area (IUCN Category VI), established in 1994. Provided no further major engineering works impact the ecological integrity of the Cuatro Cienegas basin, and the protected area regulations are adhered to, the species and its habitat should be relatively secure; however, recent and ongoing developments as well as plans for further development involve broad-scale ecological processes (water extraction, agriculture, infrastructure development) that will continue to impact the habitat in the foreseeable future. Such development must be managed and their impacts minimized as much as possible. Conservation efforts should be focused on halting habitat loss, especially in the western portion of the basin where the remaining population shows high levels of genetic distinctness (Howeth in litt., 24 Jan 2007).
Ex situ conservation breeding has been sufficiently successful that several zoo assurance colonies now exist, and small numbers of surplus animals have transferred to dedicated hobbyists, eliminating any need for collection and smuggling of wild animals to meet very limited hobbyist demand.
An updated population status report and further biological research and status monitoring are priority actions.
Coahuilan box turtle
The Coahuilan box turtle (Terrapene coahuila), or aquatic box turtle, is an endangered species of turtle in the Emydidae family. Unlike the other members of the genus Terrapene, this turtle spends roughly 90% of its time in water.
It is a close relative to the common box turtle (T. carolina). Researchers have therefore suggested that it developed from a nonaquatic species in order to survive in the desert springs of Cuatro Ciénegas.
It is endemic to the vicinity of Cuatro Ciénegas in Coahuila, Mexico. Within an area of less than 800 km² (300 sq mi), there are several distinct pockets of this species. During the rainy season, Coahuilan box turtles may leave their home range and travel throughout the desert.
It is associated with marshes and springs, and is the only aquatic species within its genus. It is typically encountered among tall grass and brush in marshy areas, and prefers shallow water with dense vegetation (such as Chara spp., Eleocharis rostellata, and Scirpus olneyi ) and a muddy bottom. By digging down into the mud, the turtle can cool itself.
The body is adapted for spending long periods of time in the water, and the shell is often covered in algae. Just like any other box turtle, it has a hinged shell that can be completely closed. The skin is dark, usually dark brown and dark gray, but some areas can appear completely black.
This is an opportunistic feeder that will devour both plants and other animals. It will for instance eat fly larvae, dragonfly nymphs, beetles, true bugs, reptiles, fish, crayfish, and plant matter (such as Eleocharis spp.) in the wild.
- Fritz, Uwe; Havaš, Peter. (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 200. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- Berg, William. "Aquatic or Coahuilan Box Turtle – Terrapene coahuila". Retrieved 28 July 2013.
- Brown WS. (1974). "Ecology of the aquatic box turtle Terrapene coahuila (Chelonia, Emydidae), with comments on its evolutionary status". Bulletin of the Florida State Museum 19: 1–67.
- Schmidt KP, Owens DW. (1944). Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Coahuila, Mexico. Zool. Ser. Field Mus. Nat. Hist. 29 (6): 97-115. ("Terrapene coahuila sp. nov.", pp. 101–103.)
- Howeth JG, McGaugh SE, Hendrickson DA. (2008). Contrasting demographic and genetic estimates of dispersal in the endangered Coahuilan box turtle: a contemporary approach to conservation. Molecular Ecology 17: 4209–4221.
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