Web Extra: Sea Turtle Facts
By Samantha Hyde
Sea Turtle Facts. Did you know...?
If you come across a turtle on the side of the road on a drive through the country, chances are that it isn’t actually a turtle. Turtles live in water for the majority of their lives, while tortoises are the life-long land dwellers. If in doubt, look at their feet. Turtles have webbed feet and, sometimes, flippers to help navigate, and tortoises have round and sturdy feet so they can walk over rocks and dig burrows.
- Sea turtles hatch on land but spend most of their lives at sea. Males never return to land, and females only do so when it’s time to lay their eggs. In fact, nesting female turtles can swim thousands of miles to return to the beach where they were born.
- The world’s largest sea turtle is the Leatherback. The shell can reach up to eight feet in diameter making the weight of the turtle about 1,300 pounds. The large fins make the turtle the fastest as well. One Leatherback turtle was recorded going 22 miles per hour!
- The smallest sea turtle is the Kemp’s Ridley, which grows to be 27-32 inches long and 75-100 pounds.
- There are seven species of sea turtles that inhabit the Earth’s oceans. Along with the Leatherback and Kemp’s Ridley, three more can be found in Texas, including the Hawksbill, Green and Loggerhead. (Green sea turtles found in the Eastern Pacific Ocean are often called Black sea turtles.) The Olive Ridley and Flatback sea turtles can be found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
- When turtles arrive on land, many people can see “tears” falling from their eyes. Since they spend the majority of their life in salt water, sea turtles have special glands, located behind their eyes, to process salt out of their bodies.
- Sea turtles don’t have teeth as adults, but as hatchlings, they are born with one tooth, known as the egg tooth or caruncle. The little tooth helps the hatchling break out of its shell, a process that can take more than 20 minutes. The tooth looks like a white bump on the front of the turtle’s nose, but falls off a couple of days after the turtle leaves the shell. Baby turtles are also born with a yolk sac to feed them for the first few days.
- Turtles also don’t have ears. They “hear” through the vibrations in the water and changes in the water pressure. This allows them to locate food and predators. Turtles also have a strong sense of smell.
- Incubation temperature determines the sex of a sea turtle, though the temperature range varies depending on species and geography. In Texas, if the egg stays below 82 degrees, the hatchlings are mostly male, and if the temperature rises above 87 degrees, females are usually born. About an equal number of male and female hatchlings are born if the temperature falls in between. As the Earth’s core temperature continues to rise, more female hatchlings are being born, making it more difficult for female turtles to find a mate.
- Six of the seven species of sea turtles are found in the United States. Of those six, all but one is listed as endangered and that one, the loggerhead, is listed as threatened. Many factors contribute to their decline. For example, Leatherbacks feed on jellyfish, and the turtles often mistake plastic bags floating in the water for supper. Sea turtles often drown in fishing nets or are injured by boats. Currently, shrimp boats in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are required by law to include a Turtle Excluder Device (TED) in the fishing nets. These devices allow about 97 percent of turtles to swim free once trapped. More than 70 laws have been passed to help conserve sea turtles on the local, state, national and international level. But you can help, too, by picking up any litter on the beach, keeping lights low on the beach-front properties and eating local seafood (caught with turtle-friendly nets). To learn more about turtle conservation, go to www.savetexasseaturtles.org.
From the June 2012 issue.
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