Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Struggle of the Green Sea Turtle Mother and Infant

While articles about hunting turtles and their eggs are more likely to injure our sensibilities today than to whet our interest they can also be a source of first-hand information about sea turtles. Here, in an 1890 article, from The Outing Magazine, J. M. Murphy gives a nice description of the egg-laying habits of the female Green Sea Turtle [Chelonia mydas] and the subsequent scramble to the sea when the young hatch.

A female is so careful to conceal the nest that she scratches sand toward it from every direction, and, having made a mound over it, she rises to her full height, by straightening her legs, then letting her body drop on the mound, she packs it and the eggs as closely as if the work were done by a pile driver. She keeps packing it in this manner until it is as level as any other part of the beach. After inspecting it, to see that it is right, she makes a few false demonstrations in the sand, in order to deceive the enemies of her unhatched young, then hastens seaward as fast as she can travel, for she knows full well the danger that threatens her ashore.

It requires six weeks to hatch the eggs, and when the young appear they issue from their retreats in such vast numbers that the beach seems covered with them, and they remind one strongly of ants pouring out of an ant hill. They are about the size of a silver dollar, but small as they are they have the instinct of self preservation strongly developed. The moment they come out of the nest they hasten toward the sea and swim away, if they are not devoured by the numerous enemies that lie in wait for them, the worst of which are the sharks, especially the species known as the "nurse" shark. These extend along the beach in water just deep enough to float them, and gobble down the juvenile chelonian as fast as they get within reach. I have heard a veteran turtler say that he found 207 young loggerheads in a nine foot shark, and that the old fellow did not seem to have enough even then, judging from his anxiety to secure some more after being harpooned.

Tales of Old Florida ed. by Tony Meisel & Frank Oppel. Secaucus, NJ: Castle, 1987. 81. (An edition of facsimile reprints from turn of the century outdoor magazines and pamphlets.) From "Turtling in Florida" by J. M. Murphy. The Outing Magazine, November 1890.

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