Turtles are fascinating and I have always wanted to know if they nurse their young. So I did some research, and here’s what I found.
Do Turtles nurse their young? Turtles do not nurse their young. Turtles as a species do not nurse their young. Only mammals nurse their young, and turtles are not mammals.
So how do baby turtles survive? Their mothers can’t feed them because they don’t stay around. The answer surprised me!
Do Turtles Nurse And Care For Their Babies
Female turtles do not nurse their offspring and do not provide maternal care for their babies. After laying the eggs, turtle mothers return to the ocean. Their eggs will incubate and hatch in the warmth of the beach sand. After they hatch, baby turtles are on their own and try to survive the predators and dangers that lure on the shores and in the ocean.
Turtles are solitary reptiles and this is how they’ve survived for millions of years. Compared to mammals who give birth to live babies and produce milk-like substances to nurse their young, reptiles lay eggs and don’t lactate. This means that no parental care is provided for reptile off-springs. Male turtles do not return to beach shores [almost never], and usually they spend their most of their lives in open ocean.
The only reptile-exceptions known to protect their eggs by keeping the nest warm and safe are crocodiles, alligators, few snakes and lizards. Crocodiles and alligators even go the extra mile caring for their babies for the year to come.
Sex Determination In Turtles
Turtle mothers lay their eggs on beach shores in areas above high tide lines. After they end this exhausting task, females return to ocean and get back only to lay another batch of eggs.
Turtle babies’ gender is determined by “incubation temperatures in the nest” meaning that a surface-nest heated by the sun will be warmer and will produce female turtles, while a deeper nest will maintain cooler temperatures and hatch males.
How Do Baby Turtles Survive
After reaching the ocean, the off-springs usually swim to the Gulf Stream, before dropping out of the current in the middle of the ocean. Turtles drift and then reach the seas. The young turtles spend a lot of time at the algae filled surfaces of the seas.
Researchers believe that young turtles remain in algae areas to grow. Young turtles were tagged with small special satellites fastened to their tiny shells. This way scientists were able to uncover the mystery of “the lost years” in a turtle’s lives.
How Are Sea Turtles Born
Every 2-4 years adult female turtles lay their eggs in an egg chamber on the beach. This happens during the nesting season when all adult female turtles are “synchronized” to arrive to the nesting beach at the same time. Turtle mothers dig a hole in the sand using their flippers to prepare the nest. After laying the ping-pong sized eggs, the turtle mother covers them with sand.
After 6 to 12 weeks, baby turtles hatch, cracking their shells and start climbing their ways up to the surface of the sand. The offsprings drag themselves flipping their small flippers across the beach consuming fat reserves they’ve stored.
Their survival instinct tells them to reach the ocean as fast as they can and usually this journey happens in mass at night. The youngsters are guided by the moon’s reflection off the ocean. This is also the first time when hatchlings familiarize themselves with the magnetic forces of the earth.
After reaching the ocean, baby turtles enter the frenzy period, which is actually a “swimming fever” to find ocean currents and may last few days. Turtles consume the stored food reserves from the egg yolk and navigate open oceans using magnetic fields. This sense is called MANETOCEPTION and it enables turtles the ability to perceive direction and location.
Ocean currents provide youngsters safety from predators and beach shores. Ocean currents play an important role in juvenile lives as turtles drift on ocean currents and eat surface plankton.
The following 10 years of turtle’s lives are called “the lost years”. Scientists estimate that only one turtle in 1000 turtles reaches adulthood.
After 10 -15 years, instinct brings turtles back to the same beaches to lay their eggs in the sand they were born in. This way the cycle begins again.
Do Baby Turtles Die Easily
Unfortunately, wild baby turtles die easily due to the high number of predators both on land and in water. Since they do not have any parental protection, youngsters are very vulnerable and most of them count as an “easy meal” for seabirds, ghost crabs, raccoons, dingo’s, lizards, fish and sharks.
Although turtle hatchlings have safety in numbers and all hatch at the same time embarking simultaneously in the survival journey, only one turtle in a thousand reaches adulthood. Turtle babies can also die from dehydration in the sun if they don’t reach the ocean waters as fast as they can.
Humans made their lives even more challenging, endangering the species by polluting the ocean waters and growing the ocean garbage which the sea turtles mistakenly take for sea weed and food. Heavy rains, strong winds and rough weather are another enemy of turtle hatchlings.
Many turtles are washed back to beach shores since they are exhausted and too weak to swim. Luckily there are trained volunteers who survey beaches and rescue the young sea turtles, releasing them when they’re strong enough to swim.
Captive bred and raised turtles [aquatic or terrestrial] are also very vulnerable and need proper diet, habitat and maintenance. Right temperature and lighting play an important role in captivity. Mishandled baby turtles or offspring kept in improper conditions raise the mortality rate for captive turtles.
But Do Turtles Get Lonely
Turtles don’t get lonely; as a matter of fact turtle are solitary reptiles that live alone and on their own. Male turtles approach females only during mating rituals. Male turtles interact with other males only to fight over females thus giving them the chance to pass on their genes.
Turtles are not bothered by the presence of other turtles, but they don’t need to socialize or bond with each other. Turtles are designed to live solitary lives. They have a different range of emotions than humans [being cold-blooded reptiles] and feel basic emotions like fear, anger, curiosity, feeling relaxed or safe.
Turtles are earth’s veterans with millions of years of evolution on this planet. Turtles are peaceful, non-violent reptiles that have been around for a very long time. We still have much to discover about turtle lives, evolution and mysteries.
They are known to be symbols of wisdom, good luck, longevity, patience, wealth and protection spirits in many cultures. Turtle species have fascinated humans for centuries adding a positive nuance and magic to our lives.