Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Florida
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Bishop, N. D., Hudson, R., Marlin, J., Pop, T., Rainwater, T., Boylan, S., Atkinson, B., and Carthy, R. R. 2021. Using growth rates to estimate the minimum age and size at sexual maturity in a captive population of the critically endangered Central American river turtle Dermatemys mawii. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research, 9(3), 150–156.


The Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawii) is a critically endangered species that has incurred substantial losses over the last several decades due to overhunting. This species is now being considered for head-starting programs (i.e. captive breeding of turtles for wild release). However, relatively little is known about their life history characteristics, especially with respect to growth and sexual maturation. A robust knowledge of D. mawii life history traits is important in developing conservation management plans. Our research is the first known study to maintain hatchlings, juveniles, and adults in captivity with regular morphometric data collection. We quantified growth rates (cm yr-1) and calculated growth parameters (e.g. growth coefficients) to estimate body size and age at onset of sexual maturity in a group of wild-caught but captive-held and captive-bred D. mawii in Belize. Sizes at the onset of sexual maturity were inferred by segmented linear regressions that identified changes in growth rate by body size. Asymptotic sizes and growth coefficients were calculated using the Fabens method and the Wang method. Parameters from these models were then applied to a modified von Bertalanffy growth equation to estimate age at the onset of sexual matuarity. Male and female D. mawii begin sexual maturation at ca. 38.0 cm and 40.0 cm straight-line carapace length, respectively. We estimated ages associated with these sizes at 13.5-16.9 yrs (males) and 13.6-17.3 yrs (females). No previous literature on growth rates or age at maturation for wild or captive D. mawii has been reported, so our results serve as a starting point in conservation management. Given the life history trait of delayed sexual maturity (>10 years), D. mawii may be more sensitive to losses of the adult population. Therefore, the importance of captive breeding and head-starting programs is concomitant with protecting wild, adult populations.