Female turtles “talk” to their hatchlings, scientists discover

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

In the past, scientists did not think that turtles communicated with each other, seeing that they had internal ears and no vocal cords. However, giant South American River turtles were so organized in some of their behaviors that it seemed odd to scientists that they weren’t communicating somehow – such as when 16 turtles leave the river in a single-file line to dig nests and lay eggs on the shore.  Herpetologists recently discovered that this species of turtle calls to each other in and out of the water.  Baby turtles make noises while in their shells that may cause their siblings in the eggs around them to all hatch at the same time.  After they hatch and enter the water, their mothers call for the babies and guide them to flooded forest areas.  What’s amazing is the mothers stay near the beaches where they lay their eggs for two months while the eggs develop!  Scientists plan on confirming if an individual mother actually finds her own offspring, or if it is some unrelated babies, since many mothers will lay eggs in the same area.

Turtles communicate at very low frequencies – so low that humans more than 50 years old often can’t detect it.  This may help the sound travel underwater. They also really space out their calls, and sometimes only make noise a few times per hour.  No wonder people didn’t think they communicated before!


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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.