Did you know that sea turtles are one of the oldest animals on Earth? They've been around for about 100 million years! With such a long time, there has been much evolution and adaptation to their surroundings. Sea turtles have many amazing characteristics and adaptations which help them survive in their environment.
We don't have to say that they're amazing and interesting creatures because I'm sure all of you know that now. However, what you don't know is what their lifestyles are like—and so, here's everything else you need to know about our beloved shelled reptiles!
Description and Appearance
Sea turtles have a very unique appearance that separates them from other reptiles. Sea turtles are actually part of a larger group of reptiles called sea turtles, crocodiles, and alligators. They have a large shell on their back which is used as a shield for protection, especially since they live in the ocean!
The shells also help the turtle swim because it makes them very heavy. Sea turtles actually have flippers instead of feet, which are much similar to birds! The front flipper has a claw that is used for eating and grabbing onto the seaweed. The back flippers are used for steering. On the beautiful shell are lines called scutes/scales. These scales help the sea turtle swim! Sea turtles live in the water, but they come up to the surface for air.
Sometimes, they come up to the surface with the sole purpose of comforting you to sleep, too. Wait, or am I talking about Gage Beasley’s Tropical Sea Turtle Soft Stuffed Plush Toy? Either way, what I’m saying about them coming to your bed and seemingly making you fall asleep—that part is true.
They have a very special adaptation called an egg tooth. It is a pointy hook that comes out of their snout and is used to break open their eggs after hatching! The turtle uses this egg tooth until it falls off which can be a few months to a year.
Male sea turtles are smaller than female sea turtles because they don't have egg-laying adaptations.
Sea turtles are actually some of the largest reptiles on Earth. Depending on the species, sea turtles can grow up to 3 feet long! They weigh about 600 pounds. The leatherback is the largest species of turtle that can grow up to 2 meters long and weigh around 1 ton.
As with other reptiles, sea turtles are strictly carnivorous. Their diets can range depending on the species, but there are four main types!
Leatherbacks have a diet of jellyfish.
Loggerheads eat crabs and fish including eels.
Hawksbills often graze on invertebrates such as sponges, tunicates, or sea squirts.
Green turtles are herbivores who are very picky with what they eat. They only eat plants that are high up on the surface of the ocean. Different species of green turtles have different diets which can range from mangrove leaves to seagrass!
An interesting diet that was discovered recently is that of the flatback turtle. It was observed in Richard B. Jefferson's lab that they eat jellyfish tentacles but not their bell! The turtles chew it like gum and eventually swallow it without ingesting any other parts of the jellyfish! This adaptation makes sense because jellyfishes have stinging cells called nematocysts which are harmful to the turtle, but since they only eat the tentacles which do not have any nematocysts, there is no harm done.
Since they are reptiles, sea turtles lay eggs! They lay their eggs on dry sand which provides protection for the egg and helps with egg development. Sea turtles usually only come up to land to lay their eggs.
A female Hawksbill turtle will make use of its beak-like mouth to dig into the sand. It uses its mouth to dig deep holes where it will deposit up to 80 eggs which are the size of ping pong balls! The hole is then covered with sand to hide the eggs from predators.
The time for an egg to hatch depends on its temperature since they are reptiles! Warmer temperatures speed up the hatching process, whereas colder temperatures will delay it.
Conservation Status and Distribution
Sea turtles live in warm water climates such as Australia, North America, South America, Africa, India, China, Japan, and many more! Almost all species will travel across the ocean during migration.
Sea turtles are currently considered threatened. This is mostly because of the destruction of their habitats (especially nesting beaches), human consumption, and poaching!
The main threats affecting sea turtles are boat collisions, fishing nets, plastic, pollution,over-harvesting or poaching of their meat and eggs, excessive egg collection for consumption by humans, loss of nesting beaches due to mangrove destruction and development, and entanglement in longline fisheries.
Let's not forget that sea turtles are also at risk of becoming extinct because of the destruction of their habitats, poaching, and over-harvesting.
Sea turtles have so many predators on land! Foxes, dogs, coyotes, birds, snakes, raccoons, and feral hogs are just some examples.
Since they are reptiles, their main predators are other reptiles!
Sea turtles also have many threats in the water including sharks, seals, and orcas.
Sea turtles are reptiles that spend most of their lives in the ocean. They reproduce on land, but they also come up to lay eggs if their nesting areas are near water.
Their diets can range depending on the species, but all sea turtles are carnivorous!
Four main types of sea turtle include leatherbacks which eat jellyfish, loggerheads which eat crabs and fish, hawksbills which graze on invertebrates such as sponges, tunicates, or sea squirts, and green turtles that are herbivores and picky with what they eat.
If you want to help save the habitat of sea turtles, remember to recycle! Recycling anything reduces the amount of trash that is thrown into the ocean which in turn reduces the amount of pollution.
Remember, if you ever find a turtle on land or get attacked by one at the beach, remember not to irritate it or approach it! Leave turtles alone and keep an eye on them from far distances so they won't feel threatened!