Ovarian cycle and egg production of the western swamp tortoise Pseudemydura umbrina (Testudines: Chelidae) in the wild and in captivity

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Abstract

The reproductive organs of logn-term captive females and of wild females of the western swamp tortoise, Pseudemydura umbrina, which were taken temporarily into captivity, were studied over several years by ultra-sound scanning. Pseudemydura umbrina, a critically-endangered species, is active during winter and spring when the ephemeral swamps it inhabits contain water and aestivates during summer and autumn (November to May/June) when the swamps are dry. The vitellogenic growth of ovarian follicles commences during aestivation in summer and continues during autumn and winter. The timing of the vitellogenic cycle is remarkably similar to that of many other Australian chelids and that of many other chelonians of temperate and subtropical regions, but the patterns of energy harvest, storage and allocation to ovarian follicles is different. Ovulation occurs between late September and early November and is preceded by a feeding bout and a sharp increase in female body mass. One clutch of 3–5 eggs (exceptionally of one or two) is laid in November/December. Sub-adult females show cycles of follicular growth, followed by atresia, for several years before ovulating and laying eggs. Females taken into captivity may miss the following vitelogenic cycle, but captivity does not generally affect vitellogenic cycles. Ovulation and egg production of captive animals is easily suppressed, however, under stress or sub-optimal food intake in spring. The sensitivity of ovulation to sub-optimal conditions and the subsequent reabsorption of the yolk material may enhance survival of the reproducing individual during long dry periods in an unpredictable environment.

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