How Much Do You Know About Sea Turtles?
Sea turtles are arguably one of the most loved ocean animals out there, but how much do you really know about these fascinating creatures?
Not only are sea turtles cute, but they’re an extremely important part of the ocean ecosystem. Without sea turtles, the populations of other marine life would fall out of balance, resulting in a devastating impact on coral reefs. They also help distribute nutrients throughout our beaches, helping support the growth of coastal vegetation.
Unfortunately, sea turtle populations have decreased drastically in recent years due to plastic pollution and climate change. We have to do our part to help save the turtles!
Here are some fun facts about sea turtles that will help you understand the importance of these incredible ocean animals.
How old are sea turtles?
It’s hard to imagine the sea turtles we know and love once shared our planet with dinosaurs, but it’s true! It’s estimated that sea turtles have been a part of Earth’s oceans for the last 110 million years! For reference, dinosaurs went extinct around 65 million years ago.
One interesting fact about sea turtles is that the oldest known sea turtle fossil is at least 120 million years old. Of course, sea turtles have evolved quite a bit in the past hundred million years, but these fossils show key characteristics of sea turtles, like their shells and flippers.
What do sea turtles eat?
Each species of sea turtle has different dietary preferences. Species like the Hawksbill and Loggerheads are more predatory, eating sponges and crustaceans (like shrimp and crabs). Other species, like the Green sea turtle, are primarily herbivores and mostly eat seagrasses and algae.
The majority of sea turtles, however, prey on jellyfish as their main source of food. This helps regulate the jellyfish population to keep the ecosystem balanced.
Unfortunately, ocean plastic pollution is often mistaken for jellyfish, resulting in sea turtles accidentally ingesting plastic waste. Since they cannot digest plastic, this plastic waste often builds up in their digestive system, resulting in the sea turtle’s death.
How are sea turtles born?
From their very first moments of life, sea turtles have to fight to survive. Since sea turtles are reptiles, they are hatched from eggs. Mothers often migrate thousands of miles to beaches so they can lay their eggs. Using their flippers to dig holes, they create a nest to safely lay hundreds of eggs.
After a few weeks, the eggs begin to hatch and their fight for survival begins. They must dig their way out of the nest and find their way back to the ocean. Along the way they have to fight off predators like birds and crabs.
Out of the thousands of hatchlings, it’s estimated that only one in 1,000 sea turtles survive to adulthood.
How long can sea turtles hold their breath?
While some sea turtle species go to beaches to soak in the sunlight, many species stay at sea for long periods of time. Some sea turtles, especially males, even sleep underwater.
That means they’ve adapted to hold their breath for hours at a time. In fact, it’s not uncommon for sea turtles to hold their breath for 4-7 hours at a time!
In order to do this, sea turtles dramatically slow their heart rate. Some heart rates slow to one beat for every nine minutes! For comparison, our human heart rate is between 60-100 heartbeats for every minute.
How far do sea turtles travel?
Sea turtles are true nomads, migrating thousands of miles in their lifetime all throughout the ocean. While most species have a “home reef”, every few years they travel long distances for breeding and feeding.
Leatherback turtles have been known to travel more than 10,000 miles each year in the search of food. They migrate the entire Pacific Ocean on the hunt for jellyfish, traveling from Japan to Baja California.
Where do sea turtles lay eggs?
While you might assume that sea turtles simply lay their eggs on the closest beach, that is actually not true! Female sea turtles are creatures of habit and will travel thousands of miles to lay their eggs on their natal beach — the beach where they were born.
Every 3-4 years, female turtles make the long journey back to their natal beach to breed and lay their eggs. How sea turtles navigate such long distances is still a mystery, but scientists believe that they are able to detect the Earth’s magnetic field to determine their location.
The distance needed to travel for breeding season varies from turtle to turtle, but distances of up to 1,500 miles have been recorded.
How fast can sea turtles swim?
Sea turtles can weigh anywhere from 100 to 1,000 pounds! They range in length from two feet all the way up to nine feet long. Despite their massive size, sea turtles easily float and can swim up to speeds of 22 miles per hour.
It’s no surprise that sea turtles were built for the water. Their flat shells and elongated flippers help them deftly maneuver their way through the water. They use their front flippers to propel themselves forward, while their back flippers are used to steer them in the right direction.
How do nest temperatures affect sea turtles?
Unlike humans, the sex of hatchlings is not determined by their inherited genes. Instead, the sex of sea turtles is determined by the average temperature of their nest.
Warmer nest temperatures lead to more females being born, while cooler nest temperatures will lead to more males being born.
Climate change is a direct threat to sea turtles. As the average world temperature continues to rise, sea turtles will begin to hatch more and more females. Without a balance in male population, sea turtles will not be able to reproduce, putting the species at risk of extinction.
How long do sea turtles live?
Most sea turtles can live long, healthy lives if their habitat isn’t threatened by humans. It’s hard to know the exact lifespan of sea turtles, since most live longer than research projects. However, it’s estimated that sea turtles can live to be up to 80 years old!
Despite this long lifespan, almost all species of sea turtles are listed as endangered. Facing the threat of habitat destruction, plastic pollution, and climate change, sea turtles’ lives are often cut short.
The biggest threat facing sea turtles is becoming entangled in large nets that are used for commercial fishing. It is estimated that thousands of sea turtles die in fishing nets every single year.
How far do sea turtles migrate?
Migration patterns for sea turtles vary from species to species.
Some species, like the Green sea turtle, mostly stick to coastal areas. They will remain in shallow coastal waters until it’s time to migrate back to their natal beaches for breeding season.
Other species, however, will migrate thousands of miles each year. Leatherbacks have the largest documented migratory patterns out of all sea turtles, averaging 10,000 miles each year.
Why do sea turtles look like they’re crying?
It’s not uncommon to come across photos of sea turtles appearing to be crying. While it might look like they’re crying, it’s actually their tear ducts working hard to keep their eyes healthy.
These “tears” are actually gooey salt secretions from glands behind their eyes. This helps flush out any irritants like sand and protect their eyes from salt water. Although these tears are more evident during nesting season, sea turtles produce the tears all year long.
How much time do sea turtles spend in the ocean?
The majority of a sea turtle’s life is spent swimming it’s way through the open ocean. Although they occasionally need to surface for air, they don’t need to come to land very often. In fact, sea turtles even sleep underwater!
This is one major reason why sea turtles are more susceptible to large-scale fishing. Because they spend so much time in the open waters, sea turtles are more likely to become entangled in massive nets used in commercial fishing.
Why do sea turtles have beaks?
If you take a close look at sea turtles, you’ll notice that each species’ beak looks slightly different. This is because each species has different diets and their beaks have adapted to what they eat.
Species like the Loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley, and Olive Ridley have to break through the hard exteriors of crustaceans like crabs and mollusks. As a result, they have very large, wide head beaks that allow them to crush through tough shells.
In comparison. Leatherback sea turtles mostly hunt jellyfish. Leatherback beaks are softer, but have sharp cusps at the end that help them pierce through the delicate body of a jellyfish.
What do sea turtles use their flippers for?
Sea turtle’s massive flippers are great for swimming, but they have other purposes too!
The back flippers are used to carefully steer their bodies through the ocean waters, acting as a rudder.
Females use their flippers during breeding season to dig holes into sandy beaches. These holes then become nests for the females to lay their eggs. Each nest can hold around 100 eggs and females may dig several nests in one season.
Some species of sea turtles have also learned how to use their flippers to handle and manipulate their prey. Pictures have shown sea turtles using their flippers to push around scallops on the ocean floor and holding a jellyfish in place.
Can sea turtles hide in their shells?
Unlike land turtles, sea turtles cannot duck into their shells to hide from predators. The sea turtle's shell actually evolved from ribs and is part of their spine, forming an exoskeleton similar to insects. Because of this, it’s not possible for a sea turtle to retract its head and flippers into its shell.
For land turtles, their shell is an essential tool used in protecting itself from dangerous predators. Without this capability, sea turtles are left more vulnerable to predators.
There are some benefits though! Sea turtles’ shells are actually much thinner and lighter than that of a land turtle. This allows them to move around the ocean quickly and efficiently.
What is a group of sea turtle eggs called?
When it’s time for breeding season, female sea turtles lay groups of 50-200 eggs. These groups are called a clutch. A single sea turtle may lay up to eight clutches in one breeding season.
These clutches have to be kept under a very special set of environmental circumstances. Despite being made out of a tough, leathery shell, these eggs are extremely sensitive to environmental factors like noise, light, and temperature.
Sea turtle’s nests can be easily disturbed by people, excessive noise, or bright lights. If you come across a sea turtle’s nest, it’s important to report the nest to call your local wildlife commission. Do not touch the nest or shine any flashlights directly on the nest.
How far do sea turtles swim in their lifetime?
Spending most of their lifetime swimming in the ocean, sea turtles quickly rack up those miles. Specific migration patterns vary between species, but all sea turtles have to migrate for nesting and hunting. It’s not uncommon for a turtle to swim between 1,000 to 10,000 miles each year.
For some species, traveling these long distances can take quite a while. Most turtles cruise through the ocean around 5.8 miles per hour. The fastest species is the leatherback turtles, reaching speeds of up to 22 miles per hour. Leatherbacks also have the longest journeys, so this speed comes in handy.
Where do sea turtles live?
Despite their endangerment, sea turtles can be found in virtually every corner of the world. In fact, the only places you won’t find sea turtles are the arctic and antarctic regions. The waters in these regions are too cold for sea turtles to survive.
In the United States, you can find sea turtles on almost any coast! Texas, California, Maryland, and Hawaii are all known for having a large number of sea turtles on their beaches.
How many eggs do sea turtles lay?
The average female sea turtle can lay anywhere from 50 to 200 eggs in one clutch. During their breeding season, sea turtles dig several nests and may lay up to eight clutches. That’s a grand total of 1600 eggs in just one breeding season!
Of course, it’s not likely that sea turtles will lay that many eggs every season. Sea turtles might not produce eggs every year and go three to four years between periods of reproductive activity.
If they lay so many eggs, why are sea turtles endangered? It’s estimated that out of every 1,000 eggs, only one hatchling will survive to adulthood. That means that out of those 1,600 eggs laid, it’s likely only one to two will survive.
What do sea turtle shells look like?
While all sea turtles have shells, they vary in color, size, and durability depending on their species.
The majority of sea turtles have hard shells made out of hard, bony plates. The shell acts as an exoskeleton, protecting the sea turtle’s body from outside forces.
There is one species that stands out — leatherback sea turtles have soft shells. Instead, their shells are made out of mini-plates located underneath its thick, leathery skin. Their shells are a lot lighter, making it easier for them to swim faster and deeper.
Do Your Part to Help Sea Turtles Thrive
Sea turtles are fascinating creatures that are essential to our ocean’s ecosystem. It’s essential that we do our part to help protect sea turtles from the dangers of plastic pollution and climate change.
By committing to a sustainable lifestyle, you can help keep our oceans safe for sea turtles. In order to keep plastic pollution out of our oceans, invest in products that are made with recycled plastics. Products like our Socktopus Ink socks, help keep marine life safe from plastic pollution by using recycled ocean-found plastics.
Saving the sea turtles is no small task, but even the smallest actions can make a big difference. Share these fun facts about sea turtles with your friends to encourage them to join the fight to save the turtles!