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Sea turtle

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Title: Sea turtle  
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Collection: Albian First Appearances, Endangered Animals, Endangered Species, Sea Turtles
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Sea turtle

Sea turtles
Temporal range:
Early Cretaceous-Holocene,[1] 110–0 Ma
An olive ridley sea turtle, a species of the sea turtle superfamily
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Clade: Panchelonioidea
Superfamily: Chelonioidea
Bauer, 1893[2]
Type species
Testudo mydas
Linnaeus, 1758

Chelonii - Oppel 1811
Chlonopteria - Rafinesque 1814
Cheloniae - Schmid 1819
Edigitata - Haworth 1825
Oiacopodae - Wagler 1828
Pterodactyli - Mayer 1849

Sea turtles (superfamily Chelonioidea), sometimes called marine turtles,[3] are reptiles of the order Testudines. There are seven species of sea turtles. They are the leatherback sea turtle, green sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, Kemp's ridley sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, flatback sea turtle and olive ridley sea turtle. Four of the species have been identified as "endangered" or "critically endangered" with another two being classed as "vulnerable".


  • Taxonomy and evolution 1
    • Cladogram 1.1
  • Distribution 2
  • Behavior and ecology 3
    • Habitat 3.1
    • Respiration 3.2
    • Life cycle 3.3
    • Diet 3.4
    • Salt gland 3.5
    • Commensalism with barnacles 3.6
  • Relationship with humans 4
    • Importance to ecosystems 4.1
    • Conservation status and threats 4.2
  • See also 5
  • Additional reading 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Taxonomy and evolution

The origin of Sea Turtles goes back to the Late Jurassic (150 Ma) with genera such as Plesiochelys, from Europe. In Africa, the first marine turtle is Angolachelys, from the Turonian of Angola.[4] The difference between a sea turtle and other turtles is that their legs and arms cannot retract back into their shells.[5]

Sea turtles, along with other turtles and tortoises, are part of the order Testudines.

The seven living species of sea turtles are: leatherback sea turtle, green sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, Kemp's ridley sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, flatback sea turtle and olive ridley sea turtle.[6] All species except the leatherback are in the family Cheloniidae. The leatherback belongs to the family Dermochelyidae and is its only extant member.

The species are primarily distinguished by their anatomy: for instance, the prefrontal scales on the head, the number of and shape of scutes on the carapace, and the type of inframarginal scutes on the plastron. The leatherback is the only sea turtle that does not have a hard shell; instead, it bears a mosaic of bony plates beneath its leathery skin. It is the largest sea turtle, measuring 6 to 9 feet (1.8 to 2.7 m) in length at maturity, and 3 to 5 feet (0.91 to 1.52 m) in width, weighing up to 1,500 pounds (680 kg). Other species are smaller, being mostly 2 to 4 feet (0.61 to 1.22 m) and proportionally narrower.[7]

Sea turtles constitute a single radiation that became distinct from all other turtles at least 110 million years ago.


Below is a cladogram showing the phylogenetic relationships of living and extinct sea turtles in the Chelonioidea based on Peer and Lee (2005)[8]

Phylogenetic relations of living and extinct chelonioid species











An Olive ridley turtle nesting on Escobilla Beach, Oaxaca, Mexico

The superfamily Chelonioidea has a world-wide distribution; sea turtles can be found in all oceans except for the polar regions. Some species travel between oceans. The flatback sea turtle is found solely on the northern coast of Australia. Kemp's ridley sea turtle is found solely in the Gulf of Mexico and along the East Coast of the United States.[9]

Behavior and ecology


Sea turtles are generally found in the waters over continental shelves. After taking to the water for the first time, males will not return to shore again.[10] During the first three to five years of life, sea turtles spend most time in the pelagic zone floating in seaweed beds. Green sea turtles in particular are often found in Sargassum beds, a brown seaweed in which they find shelter and food.[11] Once the sea turtle has reached adulthood it moves closer to the shore.[12] Females will come ashore to lay their eggs on sandy beaches during the nesting season.[10]

The habitat of a sea turtle has a significant influence on its morphology. Sea turtles are able to grow so large because of the immense size of their habitat: the ocean. The reason that sea turtles are much bigger than land tortoises and freshwater turtles is directly correlated with the vastness of the ocean, and the fact that they travel such far distances.[13] Having more room to live enables more room for growth.

A green sea turtle breaks the surface to breathe.


As sea turtles are air breathing reptiles, they require to surface to breathe. Sea turtles can hold their breath for several hours. A sleeping sea turtle can remain under water for 4–7 hours.[14] Sea turtles are almost always submerged, and, therefore, have an anaerobic system of energy metabolism. Although all sea turtles breathe air, under dire circumstances they may divert to anaerobic metabolism for long periods of time. When surfacing to breathe, a sea turtle can quickly refill its lungs with a single explosive exhalation and rapid inhalation. Their large lungs permit rapid exchange of oxygen and avoid trapping gases during deep dives.

Life cycle

It takes decades for sea turtles to reach sexual maturity. After mating at sea, adult female sea turtles return to land to nest at night. Different species of sea turtles exhibit various levels of philopatry. In the extreme case, females return to the beach where they hatched. This can take place every two to four years in maturity. They make from one to eight nests per season. The mature nesting female hauls herself onto the beach, nearly always at night, and finds suitable sand on which to create a nest. Using her hind flippers, she digs a circular hole 40 to 50 centimetres (16 to 20 in) deep. After the hole is dug, the female then starts filling the nest with a clutch of soft-shelled eggs one by one until she has deposited around 50 to 350 eggs, depending on the species. Some species have been reported to lay 250 eggs, such as the hawksbill. After laying, she re-fills the nest with sand, re-sculpting and smoothing the surface, and then camouflaging the nest with grasses until it is relatively undetectable visually.[11] The whole process takes thirty to sixty minutes. She then returns to the ocean, leaving the eggs untended.[15]

Turtle gender depends on sand temperature while the egg is incubating.

The hatchling's gender depends on the sand temperature.[16][17][18][19][20] Lighter sands maintain higher temperatures, which decreases incubation time and results in more female hatchlings.

It takes several decades for adult sea turtles to reach sexual maturity. The mature turtles migrate, sometimes for thousands of miles, to reach breeding sites. Male and female turtles mate in the water, and the males return to deep sea to feed. For several weeks, female sea turtles alternate between mating in the water and laying their eggs on land. Before laying her eggs, a female turtle will dig a hole in the sand with her hind flippers. She covers it with sand and returns to the ocean. About two months pass for the eggs to incubate under the sand. Afterwards, the eggs hatch, generally at night to avoid predation, and the hatchlings crawl to the water. They then swim out to sea to begin their own cycle of maturing and reproducing. Sea turtles can continue this cycle until they are 80 years old.

1. Male and female turtles age in the ocean and migrate to shallow coastal water. 2. Turtles mate in the water near offshore nesting sites. 3. The adult male turtles return to the feeding sites in the water. 4. Female turtles cycle between mating and nesting, making between 3 and 4 nests a per season. 5. Females lay their eggs, often between 100 to 120 at a time. 6. When the season is over, female turtles return to feeding sites. 7. Baby turtles mature for 60-80 days and hatch. 8. Newly hatched turtles emerge from nests and travel from the shore to the water, usually at night. 9. Baby turtles mature in the ocean until they are ready to begin the cycle again.

Incubation takes about 50–60 days. The eggs in one nest hatch together over a very short period of time. When ready, hatchlings tear their egg shells apart with their caruncle, a special egg tooth, to help break free of the egg shell and dig through the sand. Again, this usually takes place at night. Once they reach the surface, they instinctively head towards the sea.

Most species of Sea Turtles will hatch during the night hours, but the Kemp Ridley Sea Turtle, will commonly hatch during the day. This has caused the Kemp Ridley to be the most endangered species of all sea turtles. Turtle nests that hatch during the day, are more prone to predators like birds, crab, sea birds, raccoon, ants and other animals on the beach. They also encounter more human activity on beaches after hatching and can run into human obstacles such as beach chairs, umbrellas, sand castles, as well as dogs and people on the beaches themselves. Larger hatchlings have a higher probability of survival than smaller individuals, which can be explained by the fact that larger offspring are faster and thus less exposed to predation. Predators can only functionally intake so much; larger individuals are not targeted as often. A study conducted on this topic shows that body size is positively correlated with speed, so larger turtles are exposed to predators for a shorter amount of time.[21] The fact that there is size dependent predation on chelonians has led to the evolutionary development of large body sizes.

The hatchlings then proceed into the ocean, where a variety of marine predators await them. In 1987, Carr discovered that the young of Chelonia mydas and Caretta caretta spent a great deal of their pelagic lives in floating sargassum beds, where there are thick mats of unanchored seaweed. Within these beds, they found ample shelter and food. In the absence of sargassum beds, sea turtle young feed in the vicinity of upwelling "fronts".[11] In 2007, Reich determined that green sea turtle hatchlings spend the first three to five years of their lives in pelagic waters. In the open ocean, pre-juveniles of this particular species were found to feed on zooplankton and smaller nekton before they are recruited into inshore seagrass meadows as obligate herbivores.[12][22]

Instead of nesting individually like the other species, Ridley sea turtles come ashore en masse, known as an "arribada" (arrival). With the Kemp's ridley sea turtles this occurs during the day.


Sea turtles feed on a wide range of animals and plants. They are mostly omnivorous in their adult life, except the green sea turtle which is herbivorous, changing from a carnivorous diet when young. Adult green sea turtles are herbivores. The jaw is serrated to help the turtle easily chew their primary food source—seagrasses and algae.

Juvenile green sea turtles are omnivores. They eat a wide variety of plant and animal life, including insects, crustaceans, seagrasses and worms. This diet shift has an effect on the green turtle's morphology.[23] Some species specialise on certain prey; sea sponges are the principal food of hawksbill sea turtles, constituting 70–95% of their diets in the Caribbean.[24] Leatherback turtles feed almost exclusively on jellyfish and help control jellyfish populations.[25][26]

Aside from sponges, hawksbills also feed on

  • Sea Turtle Research and Conservation - Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History
  • Juara Turtle Project, Tioman, Malaysia
  • Sea Turtle Video, Praslin Island in Seychelles

External links

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
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  5. ^
  6. ^ The East Pacific sub-population of the green turtle was previously classified as a separate species, the black sea turtle, but DNA evidence indicates that it is not evolutionarily distinct from the green sea turtle.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ a b c
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ Jaffe, A. L., G. J. Slater, and M. E. Alfaro. 2011. The evolution of island gigantism and body size variation in tortoises and turtles. Biology Letters 7(4): 558-561. [1]
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  20. ^
  21. ^ Janzen, F. J., G. L. Paukstis, and J. K. Tucker. 2000. Experimental analysis of an early life-history stage: selection on size of hatchling turtles. Ecology 81.8: 2290. [2]
  22. ^
  23. ^ H., M. Asahara, N. Kamezaki, and N. Arai. 2010. Differences in the skull morphology between juvenile and adult green turtles: implications for the ontogenetic diet shift. Current Herpetology 29(2): 97-101. [3]
  24. ^
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  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ Barbour, Roger, Ernst, Carl, & Jeffrey Lovich. (1994). Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  32. ^
  33. ^ Nicolson, S.W. and P.L. Lutz. 1989.Chelonia mydasSalt gland function in the green sea turtle . J. exp. Biol. 144: 171-184
  34. ^ a b
  35. ^
  36. ^ Hudson, D.M. and P.L. Lutz. 1986. Dermochelys coriaceaSalt gland function in the leatherback sea turtle, . Copeia. 1986 (1): 247-249
  37. ^
  38. ^ Epibiont Research Cooperative. 2007. A synopsis of the literature on the turtle barnacle (Cirripedia: Balanomorpha: Coronuloidea) 1758-2007. Accessed 28 Nov 2012.
  39. ^ A free ride under the sea: barnacles and baleen whales. Themes of Parasitology. 2012. Web. 28 Nov 2012.
  40. ^ Barnacles. True Wild Life. 2011. Web. 28 Nov 2012.
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^ Sam Settle, 1995. Marine Turtle Newsletter 68:8-13
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ Berrin, Katherine & Larco Museum. The Spirit of Ancient Peru:Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
  49. ^ Sea Turtles in Tortuguero National Park Costa Rica -Turtle Observation in Tortuguero Costa Rica
  50. ^
  51. ^ a b Why Care About Sea Turtles?, Sea Turtle Conservancy.
  52. ^ "Marine Turtles." Office of Protected Resources. NOAA Fisheries, 11 Nov 2010. Web. 8 Dec 2010.
  53. ^
  54. ^ IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. 8 December 2010
  55. ^
  56. ^ a b
  57. ^ Wright, Sara. "Hilton Head Island sees record sea turtle nesting season." Bluffton Today (2010): n. pag. Web. 8 Dec 2010.
  58. ^ "Natural." Sea Turtle Foundation. Sea Turtle Foundation, 2010. Web. 8 Dec 2010.
  59. ^ Heithaus, Michael, Aaron Wirsing, Jordan Thomson, and Derek Burkholder. "A review of lethal and non-lethal effects of predators on adult marine turtles." Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 356.1-2 (2008): 43-51. Web. 15 Dec 2010.
  60. ^ Jaffé, R., C. Peñaloza, and G. R. Barreto. 2008. Monitoring an endangered freshwater turtle management program: effects of nest relocation on growth and locomotive performance of the giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa, Podocnemididae). Chelonian Conservation and Biology 7(2): 213-222. [4]
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^
  65. ^ Irene Kinan . 2006. Marine Turtle Newsletter 113:13-14
  66. ^
  67. ^
  68. ^ Baker, Natural History and Behavior, pp. 8–16
  69. ^ Travellers' Wildlife Guide to Costa Rica by Les Beletsky. Interlink Publishing Group (2004), ISBN 1566565294
  70. ^ The Marine Mammal Center and The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida . "Volunteer Opportunities." 2007. February 22, 2007.
  71. ^ Sea Turtle, Inc
  72. ^
  73. ^
  74. ^
  75. ^
  76. ^
  77. ^
  78. ^
  79. ^


  • Davidson, Osha Gray. (2001). Fire in the Turtle House: The Green Sea Turtle and the Fate of the Ocean. United States: United States of Public Affairs. ISBN 1-58648-199-1.
  • Spotila, James R. (2004). Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8007-6.
  • Witherington, Blair E. (2006). Sea Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History of Some Uncommon Turtles. St. Paul: Voyageur Press. ISBN 0-7603-2644-4.

Additional reading

See also

Sea turtles are very vulnerable to oil pollution, both because of their tendency to linger on the water's surface, and because oil can affect them at every stage of their life cycle.[79] Oil can poison the sea turtles upon entering their digestive system.

Evaluating the progress of conservation programs is difficult, because many sea turtle populations have not been assessed adequately.[76] Most information on sea turtle populations comes from counting nests on beaches, but this doesn’t provide an accurate picture of the whole sea turtle population.[77] A 2010 United States National Research Council report concluded that more detailed information on sea turtles’ life cycles, such as birth rates and mortality, is needed.[78]

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines has had several initiatives dealing with the issue of sea turtle conservation. In 2007, the province of Batangas in the Philippines declared the catching and eating of Pawikans illegal. However, the law seems to have had little effect as Pawikan eggs are still in demand in Batangan markets. In September 2007, several Chinese poachers were apprehended off the Turtle Islands in the country's southernmost province of Tawi-Tawi. The poachers had collected more than a hundred sea turtles, along with 10,000 sea turtle eggs.[75]

Also in 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service issued a determination that the leatherback, the hawksbill and the Kemp's Ridley populations were endangered while that of green sea turtles and olive ridleys were threatened.[74]

In the Caribbean, researchers are having some success in assisting a comeback.[73] In September 2007, Corpus Christi, Texas, wildlife officials found 128 Kemp's ridley sea turtle nests on Texas beaches, a record number, including 81 on North Padre Island (Padre Island National Seashore) and four on Mustang Island. Wildlife officials released 10,594 Kemp's ridleys hatchlings along the Texas coast this year.

Injured sea turtles are sometimes rescued and rehabilitated by professional organizations, such as South Padre Island, Texas.[71][72] One such sea turtle, named Nickel for the coin that was found lodged in her throat, lives at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

A loggerhead sea turtle escapes a circular fisherman's net via a TED.
Loggerhead sea turtle exits from fishing net through a turtle excluder device (TED)

Other species threaten sea turtles too. Fibropapillomatosis disease causes tumors in sea turtles. While capable of cracking turtle shells, the jaguar may simply smash into the shell with its paw and scoop out the flesh.[68] When attacking sea turtles as they try to nest on beaches, the jaguar will bite at the head, often beheading the prey, before dragging it off to eat.[69] Jaguars however are sufficiently rare to not represent any serious threat to the species.

Climate change may also cause a threat to sea turtles. Since sand temperature at nesting beaches defines the sex of a sea turtle while developing in the egg, there is concern that rising temperatures may produce too many females. However, more research is needed to understand how climate change might affect sea turtle gender distribution and what other possible threats it may pose.[67]

Another major threat to sea turtles is black-market trade in eggs and meat. This is a problem throughout the world, but especially a concern in China, the Philippines, India, Indonesia and the coastal nations of Latin America. Estimates reach as high as 35,000 sea turtles killed a year in Mexico and the same number in Nicaragua. Conservationists in Mexico and the United States have launched "Don't Eat Sea Turtle" campaigns in order to reduce this trade in sea turtle products. These campaigns have involved figures such as Dorismar, Los Tigres del Norte and Maná. Sea turtles are often consumed during the Catholic season of Lent, even though they are reptiles, not fish. Consequently, conservation organizations have written letters to the Pope asking that he declare sea turtles meat.

Since hatchlings find their way to the ocean by crawling towards the brightest horizon, they can become disoriented on developed stretches of coastline. Lighting restrictions can prevent lights from shining on the beach and confusing hatchlings. Sea turtle-safe lighting uses red or amber LED light, invisible to sea turtles, in place of white light.

Beach development is another area which threatens sea turtles. Since many sea turtles return to the same beach each time to nest, development can disrupt the cycle. There has been a movement to protect these areas, in some cases by special police. In some areas, such as the east coast of Florida, conservationists dig up sea turtle eggs and relocate them to fenced nurseries to protect them from beach traffic.

Legal notice posted by nest at Boca Raton, Florida

However, some relatively inexpensive changes to fishing techniques, such as slightly larger hooks and traps from which sea turtles can escape, can dramatically cut the mortality rate.[65][66] Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) have reduced sea turtle bycatch in shrimp nets by 97 percent. Another danger comes from marine debris, especially from abandoned fishing nets in which they can become entangled.

Sea turtles must surface to breathe. Caught in a fisherman's net, they are unable to surface and thus drown. In early 2007, almost a thousand sea turtles were killed inadvertently in the Bay of Bengal over the course of a few months after netting.[64]

One of the most significant threats now comes from bycatch due to imprecise fishing methods. Long-lining has been identified as a major cause of accidental sea turtle death.[61][62] There is also black-market demand for tortoiseshell for both decoration and supposed health benefits.[63]

Of the seven species of sea turtles,[52][53] four are listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species as either "endangered" or "critically endangered".[54] Globally, the Kemp's ridley, and hawksbill sea turtles are listed as "Critically Endangered", the loggerhead and green as "Endangered", the olive ridley and leatherback as "Vulnerable" and the flatback as "Data Deficient", meaning that its conservation status is unclear due to lack of data.[55] Additionally, all populations of sea turtles that occur in United States waters are listed as threatened or endangered by the United States government, with the leatherback, Kemp's ridley, green, hawksbill, and the Mexican nesting population of the olive ridley all listed as "Endangered", and the loggerhead and non-Mexican populations of olive ridley as "Threatened".[56] The US listing status of the loggerhead is under review as of 2012.[56] Although sea turtles usually lay around one hundred eggs at a time, on average only one of the eggs from the nest will survive to adulthood.[57] While many of the things that endanger these hatchlings are natural, such as predators including sharks, raccoons, foxes, and seagulls,[58] many new threats to the sea turtle species have recently arrived and increased with the ever-growing presence of humans.[59] It was originally believed that nest relocation could be a useful conservation technique for sea turtles. In a certain study on sea turtle conservation, researchers examined the effects of nest relocation on the endangered giant South American turtle, Podocnemis expansa. They discovered that clutches of this freshwater turtle that were transplanted to a new location had higher mortality rates and more morphological abnormalities compared to non transplanted clutches.[60] The results clearly demonstrate that humans should not manipulate or relocate clutches of that turtle, and impart strong evidence of the detrimental effects that anthropogenic activity can cause.

A sea turtle entangled in a net

Conservation status and threats

Beaches and dunes form a fragile ecosystem that depends on vegetation to protect against erosion. Eggs, hatched or unhatched, and hatchlings that fail to make it into the ocean are nutrient sources for dune vegetation. Sea turtles use beaches and the lower dunes to nest and lay their eggs. Sea turtles lay around 100 eggs in a nest and make between 3 and 7 nests during the summer nesting season. Along a 20-mile stretch of beach on the east coast of Florida sea turtles lay over 150,000 lbs of eggs in the sand. Dune vegetation is able to grow and become stronger with the presence of nutrients from sea turtle eggs, unhatched nests, eggs and trapped hatchlings. As the dune vegetation grows stronger and healthier, the health of the entire beach/dune ecosystem becomes better. Stronger vegetation and root systems help to hold the sand in the dunes and help protect the beach from erosion.[51]

Sea turtles play key roles in two ecosystem types that are critical to them as well as to humans——oceans and beaches/dunes. In the oceans, sea turtles, especially green sea turtles, are one of very few creatures (manatees are another) that eat the [51]

Sea turtles on a beach in Hawaii

Importance to ecosystems

Beach towns, such as Tortuguero, Costa Rica, have transitioned from a tourism industry that made profits from selling sea turtle meat and shells to an ecotourism-based economy. Tortuguero is considered to be the founding location of sea turtle conservation. In the 1960s the cultural demand for sea turtle meat, shells, and eggs was quickly killing the once abundant sea turtle populations that nested on the beach. The Caribbean Conservation Corporation began working with villagers to promote ecotourism as a permanent substitute to sea turtle hunting. Sea turtle nesting grounds became sustainable. Since the creation of a sea turtle, ecotourism-based economy, Tortugero annually houses thousands of tourists who visit the protected 22-mile beach that hosts sea turtle walks and nesting grounds.[49][50]

Leatherback sea turtles enjoy immunity from the sting of the deadly box jellyfish and regularly eat them, helping keep tropical beaches safe for humans.

The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped the sea and its animals. They often depicted sea turtles in their art.[48]

To a much lesser extent, specific species of marine sea turtles are targeted not for their flesh, but for their shells. Tortoiseshell, a traditional decorative ornamental material used in Japan and China, comes from the carapace scutes of the hawksbill sea turtle.[45][46] Ancient Greeks and ancient Romans processed sea turtle scutes (primarily from the hawksbill) for various articles and ornaments used by their elites, such as combs and brushes.[47] The skin of the flippers is prized for use as shoes and assorted leather goods.

Marine sea turtles are caught worldwide, although it is illegal to hunt most species in many countries.[41][42] A great deal of intentional marine sea turtle harvests worldwide are for food. Many parts of the world have long considered sea turtles to be fine dining. Ancient Chinese texts dating to the fifth century B.C.E. describe sea turtles as exotic delicacies.[43] Many coastal communities around the world depend on sea turtles as a source of protein, often harvesting several sea turtles at once and keeping them alive on their backs until needed. Coastal peoples gather sea turtle eggs for consumption.[44]

"Manner in which Natives of the East Coast strike turtle". Near Cooktown, Australia. From Phillip Parker King's Survey. 1818.

Relationship with humans

This relationship however is not truly commensal. While the barnacles are not directly parasitic to their hosts, they have negative effects to the turtles on which they choose to reside. The barnacles add extra weight and drag to the sea turtle, increasing the energy it needs for swimming and affecting its ability to capture prey, with the effect increasing with the quantity of barnacles affixed to its back.[40]

Sea turtle shells are an ideal habitat for adult barnacles for three reasons. Turtles tend to live long lives, around 50 years, so barnacles do not have to worry about host death. Secondly, barnacles are suspension feeders. Sea turtles spend most of their lives swimming and following ocean currents and as water runs along the back of the turtle’s shell it passes over the barnacles, providing an almost constant water flow and influx of food particles. Lastly, the long distances and inter ocean travel these sea turtles swim throughout their lifetime, offers the perfect mechanism for dispersal of barnacle larvae. Allowing the barnacle species to distribute themselves throughout global waters is a high fitness advantage of this commensalism.[39]

[38] Sea Turtles are believed to have a

Immature Hawaiian green sea turtle in shallow waters

Commensalism with barnacles

Hatchlings depend on drinking sea water immediately upon entering the ocean to replenish water lost during the hatching process. Salt gland functioning begins quickly after hatching, so that the young turtles can establish ion and water balance soon after entering the ocean. Survival and physiological performance hinge on immediate and efficient hydration following emergence from the nest.[34]

Leatherbacks face an increased osmotic challenge compared to other species of sea turtle, since their primary prey are jellyfish and other gelatinous plankton, whose fluids have the same concentration of salts as sea water. The much larger lachrymal salt gland found in leatherbacks may have evolved to cope with the higher intake of salts from their prey. A constant output of concentrated salty tears may be required to balance the input of salts from regular feeding, even considering leatherback tears can have a salt ion concentration almost twice that of other species of marine turtle.[36]

Marine vertebrates maintain a balance of dissolved solutes and water in the body fluids by excreting excess salt ions.[33] Like other marine reptiles, sea turtles rely on a specialized gland to rid the body of excess salt ions, because reptilian kidneys can not produce urine with a higher ion concentration than sea water.[34] All species of sea turtles have a lachrymal salt gland in the orbital cavity, capable of producing tears with a higher salt concentration than sea water.[35]

Salt gland


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