Sea Turtle Facts

Sea turtles are amazing creatures. are amazing creatures. They are the only turtle that are unable draw its head and legs inside its shell. Little is known about its life at sea because the females are the only ones that return to the sand, and that is only to lay her eggs. It is the sand, not the parents, that determines the gender of the turtles. Cooler sand produces male turtles while warmer sand produces females. Here in North Carolina, we have cooler sand so we are helping to supply the male turtle population. Unfortunately, this still has not kept all seven species of sea turtles off the endangered species list. Turtles are receptive to touch. The soft parts of their flippers and their shell are sensitive areas. It isn't recommended to try to "pet" a turtle if you come upon one on the beach. A nesting mother is intent on one thing, and one thing only. Either you will scare her away or she will bite you, with a consequence of losing a finger. Along with the loss of a finger, you will face a fine up to $100,000 or up to 1 year in prison for harassing or disturbing a turtle.

Sea turtles come in a variety of sizes. The Kemp's Ridley sea turtles and Olive Ridley sea turtles are the smallest, averaging in size around 22-30 inches and weighing 66-110 pounds, while the Leatherback sea turtles grow up to 6 feet long. The largest one recorded weighed in at 2,019 pounds. In all of the varieties though, the male and female turtles are the same size. The only major difference is that the males' tales are fatter at the base to hold his sex organs and he has sharper claws on his front flippers so he can grab the female during mating.

Most turtles have an acute sense of smell in water. They take in water through their nose and blow it out of their mouths. As it flows down the turtle's throat, the water flows over the smell organs. While the turtle can smell quite well, it does not hear well. It does have a single bone in its middle ear that conducts vibrations. Turtles are believed to only respond to low frequency sounds and vibrations.

Eyesight in turtles is quite good and is one of the ways they locate their food. Turtles are both carnivores and herbivores. Green and black turtles are solely vegetarian, feeding on sea grass and algae in the back bays. The Loggerhead, the Ridley, Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles are all carnivores. They eat a wide variety of foods ranging from crabs, mollusks and shrimp to sponges, squid and tunicates. The Hawksbill turtle plays an important role in keeping down the number of sponges that are forming on coral reefs.

Sea turtles are found throughout the world, primarily in the tropical and subtropical ocean waters. Kemp's Ridley turtles have been found as far north as Nova Scotia. While you can find them nesting on these beaches, the Kemp's Ridley will normally only nest on a remote beach near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. All of the sea turtles lay their eggs in the soft sand of the beach, above the high tide line. The female will come onshore during the darkness of night, lay anywhere from 70 to 200 ping-pong ball sized eggs in one nest, cover them with sand and return to the sea by morning. Turtle watchers can tell you what type of turtle has visited their beach by the mound of sand and the tracks that are left behind. Somewhere between 45 and 70 days later, usually with a full moon shining, the babies will hatch out of their eggs, though it may take them a week to climb out of the nest. It is not clear how the babies find the ocean. Some researchers feel they follow the light of the moon on the water while others feel they follow their internal magnetic compass. Regardless, under the cover of darkness, they return to their homes.

All of this is taking place during the warm months between March and October, except for the Leatherback turtle, which nests in December. This is thought to be because they do not have a real "shell." If they lay their eggs in the warm summer months, they run a high risk of dehydrating on the beach because they do not move well on land.

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Terms: Sea Turtle Facts, Loggerhead, Kemp's Ridley, North Carolina Beaches

Information on Sea Turtle Facts, located on the Coast of North Carolina.

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