14 things you probably didn’t know about turtles

Print Friendly

I probably don’t have to tell you. The turtles are back.

At this time of year thousands of female sea turtles transform from graceful paddlers into behemoth beasts as they haul their bodies up the sandy shores of Queensland’s beaches to lay their eggs.

Come hatching time in January, thousands of little flippers tap away across the sand under the protecting cover of the dark as a new generation start their journey towards the ocean.

One out of a thousand will survive the ride and return to their nesting ground 30 years later to close the circle of life. Here’s a look at 14 things you probably didn’t know about our shelled friends.

The basics

1. Known to seafarers as ancient mariners, turtles have been swimming the underwater world for more than 200 million years and evolved before mammals, birds, snakes and even lizards.

2. They live on every continent apart from Antarctica and follow the currents of the ocean from an early age, leaving the beach they hatch on and not returning for at least 30 years when they’ve reach sexual maturity.

Tiny little swimming machine!

Ready to rock.

3. There are seven different species of marine turtle, six of which are found on the Great Barrier Reef.

4. The largest are leatherback turtles which, when fully grown, can weigh over 900 kilograms and measure two metres long.

5. Contrary to popular belief turtles have great eyesight and an excellent sense of smell, even underwater. They can hear pretty well for an underwater creature and even have nerve endings in their shell.

6. Turtles feed primarily on sea grass and jellyfish but even equipped with all of these sensory wonders they still mistake plastic bags for jellyfish.

7. The top side of a sea turtle’s shell is called the carapace and the underside, the plastron. The carapace is made up from of 60 different bones and plates that give it incredible strength and protection.

Green Turtle - happy to pose for the cameras

Smug mug.

 Temperature matters

8. Sea turtles nest on sandy, secluded beaches such as Mon Repos near Bundaberg. The warm sands act as an incubator for the eggs, with the young appearing between 45 and 70 days after being laid; sunny spots are quickest, shady spots take a lot longer!

9. The temperature of the sand determines the sex of the hatchlings with the cooler nests producing more chilled out dudes and the warmer ones more hot-headed dudettes (that figures).

10. Some turtles can absorb oxygen through the skin surrounding their necks and flippers allowing them to sleep underwater and remain there for long periods of time – up to five hours – how cool is that!? Their heart rate drops as low as one beat every nine minutes.

Raine Island turtle nesting

Nesting turtles, Raine Island.

So where can I see them nesting?

11. There are some turtle nesting hotspots along the Queensland coast where our four-flippered friends seem to congregate to lay their eggs more than others, including Lady Elliot Island, Lady Musgrave Island, Heron Island, Mon Repos near Bundaberg, Green Island and Fitzroy Island.

12. Raine Island at the north of the reef is a specially demarcated ‘pink zone’ by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority due to the sheer number of turtles that come ashore here in the nesting season. Over 3,000 green sea turtles come ashore here every night for over two months with the sand becoming a mass of tracks by sunrise.

13. Heron Island used to be a turtle cannery up until the 1930’s with the chance to ride on the backs of turtles as they made their way up the beach – thankfully those days are long gone!

14. Between November and January the female turtles visit beaches along the coastline, with the first of the hatchlings appearing, usually around mid-January and continuing through to March.

Ben :)

  • Tina

    I love sea turtles! Interesting facts – no. 9 is whoohoo :)

  • thermoregulator

    no 9 is related to climate change -so not something to make light about really it is having very serious consequences to this ancient reptilian species. Did you also know that all 7 species of marine turtle are now all on the threatened an or endangered species list- how devastating. Did you also know that marine turtles are also a ‘sentinel species’- otherwise known as an indicator species. So if the turtles are in big trouble so are we !

    • http://queensland.com/blog Queensland Blog

      Thanks for the comment. We love seeing turtles in their natural habitat and understand their importance to the environment. Queensland has a number of organisations dedicated to assisting their survival for future generations, including the Mon Repos Turtle Centre in Bundaberg. The rangers and volunteers work to relocate nests, assist hatchlings to the water and educate approximately 30,000 visitors every year about the delicate ecosystem and the role turtles play. It’s great to see you’re also passionate about turtles and their wellbeing.