Sea Turtle Q&A: Answers To Your Most Burning Questions
*UPDATED APRIL 2019
We're approaching that time of year again—sea turtle nesting season! It runs from mid-May through August here in Topsail Island, North Carolina. How much do you REALLY know about sea turtles? Why not test your knowledge by giving our Sea Turtle Trivia Q&A a try? Play along with your friends and family, so you can have fun and learn all at the same time. It's a great trivia game to play while on your Topsail beach vacation or when you have guests staying at your Topsail beach house.
How many questions do you think you'll get right? There's only one way to find out. Ready, set, go! (Take your time, no pressure—this isn't a timed test.) Score your answers below and see if you're a Sea Turtle Expert or if you're a novice who has a little more to learn. Let us know how you did.
1. What are the three main differences that distinguish sea turtles from land turtles?
Sea turtles have paddle-like flippers, cannot fully retract into their shells, and spend most of their time in the water (except when nesting). A land turtle is known as a tortoise. Both reptiles (turtles and the tortoise) are from the same family (chelonians), however, their body features distinguish the differences between them, and the most distinct part of their body is their shell and their feet. The tortoises have short and strong feet with their leg bend compare to sea turtles, also most of the turtles shells is much flatter than tortoise. Check out more interesting differences between the two here.
2. How many sea turtles species are there worldwide?
Did you know that sea turtles have been living on planet Earth since the time of the dinosaurs? There are seven different species of sea turtles, six of which—green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and the olive ridley—can be found throughout the ocean, in both warm and cool waters. The seventh species, the flatback, lives only in Australia. North Carolina plays host to 5 of the 7 sea turtle species! Most common are the green sea turtle, loggerhead and Kemp’s Ridley followed by the leatherback and hawksbill. All species are listed as endangered or threatened and are therefore protected under the Endangered Species Act. You can read more about each sea turtle species and their conservation here.
3. What is the largest sea turtle species? What is the smallest?
The largest of all sea turtles, and one of the largest reptiles on earth, the leatherback turtle ranges in size from 4-8 feet in length (1.2 - 2.4 meters) and weighs between 500-2,000 pounds (225 - 900 kg). The average adult measures in between 5-6 feet (1.5 - 1.8 m) and weighs 600-800 pounds (270 - 360 kg).That's a lot of sea turtle! The smallest sea turtle is the Kemp's ridley. These are the smallest of the seven sea turtle species, weighing between 75-100 pounds (35 - 45 kg) and measuring approximately 2 feet (.6 m) in length.
4. Which sea turtle species is the most endangered?
The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the most endangered sea turtle in the ocean: It’s classified as critically endangered throughout its entire range. The major threats facing these incredible animals today are: bycatch in fisheries, climate change, and pollution. However, the Kemp’s ridley population took a serious blow between 1947 and 1968, when extensive harvesting of their eggs devastated their numbers. People would wait for nesting season and then take literal truck-loads of eggs to be sold in Mexico and Texas as food. In many places at that time, and still some today, the eggs are considered a delicacy.
Due to their small range they all tend to nest in relatively close proximity which means it is easy to harvest a vast majority of a whole breeding seasons worth of eggs. They also face major threat from shrimp fishing nets, and although Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) are now a legal requirement when fishing with these nets—many juveniles and adults are caught anyway.
It is estimated that in 1947 there were 120,000 nests per season, then over the next 38 years to 1985 the Kemp’s Ridley population fell by approximately 99.4%…to a mere 702 nests per season in 1985. Although such a devastating decline could’ve spelled extinction for the turtle, there has been a slight recovery. This can be attributed to the complete protection of the turtles and their eggs and nests in Mexico, the introduction and legal requirement for net fishermen to use TEDs, and the ever-increasing anti-pollution efforts globally. You can read more about these little cuties here.
5. Sea turtles have two parts to their shell (the upper and lower portions). Do you know the name for each?
The upper dorsal part of the shell is called the carapace; the lower ventral part of the shell is called the plastron. Sea turtles are reptiles and a part of the Order Testudines which includes all turtles and tortoises. The most distinctive trait of this group is the protective shell. Like all reptiles, turtles have lungs and scaled skin. The shell is made up of two main parts: the ribs and backbone, and the dermal plates. The ribs and backbone are fused to the dermal plates on the top shell. The top shell is referred to as the carapace. The lower shell is called the plastron. These two bony parts are connected on the sides by cartilage. A layer of keratin (the same substance as your finger nails) covers both shells. The only species of sea turtle without this type of shell is the leatherback. Their shell is cartilaginous (like your ears and nose). The shape and characteristics of the shell are variable between different members of the Order Testudines.
6. What do you call a group of eggs that sea turtles lay at one time?
A group of sea turtle eggs is called a clutch. When the female sea turtle has finished digging the egg chamber, she begins to lay eggs. Two or three eggs drop out at a time, with mucus being secreted throughout egg-laying. The average size of a clutch ranges from about 80 to 120 eggs, depending on the species. Because the eggs are flexible, they do not break as they fall into the chamber. This flexibility also allows both the female and the nest to hold more eggs. Nesting sea turtles appear to shed tears, but the turtle is just secreting salt that accumulates in her body. Many people believe that while laying her eggs a sea turtles goes into a trance from which she can not be disturbed. You can read more about sea turtle egg laying and nesting behavior here.
7. What poses one of the most serious threats to hatchling sea turtles?
(Hint: it's not a predator; though those are threats, too.)
Artificial light. One of the greatest threats to the survival of hatchlings is artificial lighting. When a sea turtle hatches, its instincts push it to move towards the brightest light in view, which naturally would be the sun or the moon, leading them toward the ocean horizon and into their new ecosystem. However, due to the continual expansion of cities, construction of condos and hotels on the coastlines has grown exponentially and therefore has increased the amount of artificial light. Artificial light sources can easily lead sea turtles astray and off course. Strays have an increased chance of being caught by predators or led to unsafe territory like parking lots and roads.
8. What are natural "tortoise shell" jewelry and accessories made from?
Turtleshell (also sometimes incorrectly called “tortoiseshell”), comes from the shell of the hawksbill sea turtle and is made of keratin. It can be confused for items that look similar, including cow bone or horn, plastic, or coconut shell. Sadly, the beauty of the hawksbill sea turtle's shell has garnered unwanted attention. For years this species has been sought after and killed so the beautiful shell with its unique markings can be used in jewelry, eye glass frames, hair accessories and the like. When in doubt, purchase something that you can be sure is not turtleshell for obvious reasons. More on how to identify if it's really made from turtle shells and why it's too rare to wear here.
9. True or False: Sea turtles return to the same nesting beach from which they hatched.
Tis' true. That's pretty amazing, isn't it? What a journey! Mature females return every 1 to 3 years to beaches near where they were born, coming ashore to nest in the protective cover of night. A hole close to 1 ½ feet deep will be excavated using rear flippers. Each female will then deposit roughly 100 eggs per clutch. These eggs will incubate for 60 days before hatching. According to the National Park Service, sex of offspring is determined by sand temperature with warmer temperatures producing females and cooler temperatures males. Once incubation is complete, hatchlings will emerge from their shells, boil out of the nest and rush to the surf using lunar light cues. It is estimated, sadly, that only one in 1,000 to 10,000 hatchlings survive to maturity, which varies among sea turtle species (Kemp’s ridley 10 years; leatherback 15 years; Green, loggerhead and hawksbill 20 to 50 years). Once a female turtle reaches maturity she will migrate back to the beach of her birth to begin the cycle once more. Read more about the elusive life cycle of sea turtles here.
10. True or False: Sea turtles do not need to come up to the ocean's surface for air.
False. As sea turtles are air breathing reptiles, they need to surface to breathe. Sea turtles can hold their breath for several hours, depending upon the level of activity. A resting or sleeping turtle can remain underwater for 4-7 hours. Recent research has shown that some turtles can even hibernate in the sea for several months! However, a stressed turtle, entangled in fishing gear for instance, quickly uses up oxygen stored within its body and may drown within minutes. Sea turtles can drown if underwater too long. The length of time they can stay underwater depends on the type of species, as well as environmental and physiological factors. Read more frequently asked questions (and answers) about sea turtles to increase your turtle trivia to expert level.
Well, how did you do? Check out our Sea Turtle Trivia scoring scale below!
10 correct: 100%
You are a sea turtle expert. Bravo, expert level is impressive! Be sure to share your knowledge with others.
9 correct: 90%
You are a sea turtle aficionado. Not too shabby! Hey, we all make mistakes once in awhile. You did really well overall.
8 correct: 80%
You're a sea turtle enthusiast. That's a good place to start! You just need to brush up on your skills a bit. Keep reading more about sea turtles and expanding your knowledge.
7 or less correct: 70% or below
You're a sea turtle novice. That's okay! Study up on your sea turtle trivia here and you'll be dazzling others with your sea turtle expertise in no time.
What You Can Do To Help Local NC Sea Turtles
If you live or vacation on Topsail Island, be sure to check out the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital to get up close and personal with some of our favorite flippered friends!
Before we go, here are some other things you can do to help protect our local sea turtles:
- Cover up or fill in any holes you dig in the sand to avoid hatchlings getting stuck in them.
- If you stumble upon a nest, don't disturb it. Contact the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Center so the nest can be marked and monitored.
- Properly discard of plastic bag, six-pack plastic rings, and netting that can be fatal to sea turtles.
- Turn off all outside artificial lighting whenever possible during your stay at your Topsail beach house or oceanfront Topsail, NC rental.
Well, there you have it. We hope you have learned a thing or two about sea turtles and are willing to share your new found knowledge with your family and friends. Give them a chance to answer the questions and see how they do. Thanks for playing along!
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