Watershed 2 minute read

Jicoteas of Lake Alhajuela

Groups of shy jicoteas perch on logs jutting out of the water, looking for the best place to sunbathe and thermoregulate their bodies.

Alhajuela is a large lake ecosystem and is home to a population of jicoteas, or river turtles.

The green waters of this home extend over an area of approximately 44 square kilometers, surrounded by an intricate tropical forest, in the Canal Watershed. This artificial reservoir is located in the mountainous geography of the western part of the provinces of Panama and Colon, and can store about 800 million cubic meters of water, which come mainly from the Chagres, Boqueron and Pequeni rivers.

Jicoteas - Canal de Panamá

The most outstanding thing about the jicoteas – and all the fauna of the lake – is that they managed to conquer a new aquatic environment created by man in 1934 and took advantage of the potential to make it their new home.

Turtles have inhabited the planet for approximately 220 million years and are much older reptiles than snakes and lizards. Their solid shell protects their internal organs and is their most remarkable adaptive feature.

Upon detecting any movement or noise, they disappear on the spot. They reproduce from December to May. During this period, they build their nests on the shore of the lake. The female buries her eggs in a sunny spot, lays up to 35 eggs per clutch and may deposit several clutches each year. After 70 days, the hatchlings hatch, but remain inside the nest until the first rains begin. The sex of the hatchlings depends on the temperature of the nest: if the temperature is high, females are born, and if it is low, males are born.

The main danger faced by the eggs and hatchlings are predators such as raccoons, hens, herons, and crocodiles. When they enter the water, the baby turtles hide among the underwater weeds and feed on dragonfly larvae and other insects, snails, fish, worms, shrimp, crabs, and plant material.

Jicoteas form an important part of the food chain in this body of water and are a dynamic element of the freshwater fauna of Lake Alhajuela.

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