What’s happening inside a sea turtle nest?
By Aubry Forsyth
From the day a nesting sea turtle lays her eggs, it will take an average of 60 days for the hatchlings to emerge. So, what is happening inside the nest during this time?
Development of the sea turtle eggs begins on day one; however, development is temporarily paused as the eggs are being laid, and it resumes a few hours after the eggs have been exposed to oxygen. This first stage is called the gastrula stage. Within a week of being laid, the embryo will begin to form. Features like the neural groove, head, and mouth will develop, muscles and tissues will increase in number, blood will develop around the yolk sac, and the small, S-shaped heart will begin to beat. During the second week of development, limb buds will form, and the eyes will become visible. In the third week of development, the embryo will be identifiable as a turtle due to a newly formed carapace. Over the next three weeks, the yolk will begin to disappear, the embryo will darken and grow, and an egg tooth and foreclaws will develop.
After about seven weeks of development, these new features will allow the hatchling to slice through the eggshell. Excess fluids will drain from the egg, and the hatchling will finally take its first breath. This process is known as pipping. Within two days of pipping, the hatchling will straighten itself and escape from the eggshell.
The chaos begins after the majority of the hatchlings have escaped from their shells. Oxygen demand will peak inside the chamber and will signal for the race to the top to begin. The hatchlings will begin thrashing as a group to loosen the sand and climb to the surface. The ceiling will start to collapse, forming a depression at the top of the nest, as the first group of hatchlings emerges and races to the water while trying to dodge predators along the way. One to three nights after the first emergence, additional groups of hatchlings may emerge from the nest.
If you would like to learn more about how sea turtles hatch, please visit the following website: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/turtle-hatch.html
With sea turtle nesting season in full swing here in Florida, I would like to remind everyone that if you see a hatchling sea turtle on the beach, please do not pick it up. Allow the hatchling to make its own way to the ocean. Sea turtles imprint on the beach where they hatch, so it’s important that it makes the journey. This is a natural process that could be interfered with if you pick up a hatchling. If you find a hatchling that appears disoriented, injured, or exhausted, please call the STPS emergency hotline at 321-206-0646.