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Frequently Asked Questions

posted: June 25, 2020, 12:14 PM

How much do you know about the sea turtles that nest on Holden Beach?

Q: Do momma turtles come ashore and nest more when it’s a full moon?

A: The cycle of the moon has nothing to do with the momma turtles coming ashore. A female turtle can lay several nests each season. The DNA study shows that she will lay a nest every 12 to 13 days, so it depends upon when she lays the first nest of the season and every 12 to 13 days after that.

Q: Do baby turtles hatch more when it’s a full moon?

A: The same is true for when the baby turtle hatch. They need time in the nest to develop. This is determined by the amount of heat in the nest to incubate the eggs. Typically the eggs will hatch 50 to 60 days from when the momma laid the nest...but this can change due to weather. If it’s been a cold spring and the sand is colder it will take longer for the nests to hatch. If it’s been cold and rainy and the sand is cooler it may take nests longer to hatch. Earlier nests in a season typically take longer than later nests after the sand warms up. Sometimes when we’ve had a very hot summer the nests will hatch sooner than the 50 days. The babies hatch when they’ve had enough time to develop and it has nothing to do with the moon.

Q: What time of day do baby turtles hatch from the nest?

A: Nests tend to hatch in the evening or at night. The sand cools off in the evening after the sun sets. This is an indicator (Mother Nature or instinct) to the hatchlings that is is safer for them. Birds are not on the beach after dark so the hatchlings can walk to the ocean without getting eaten by a bird. It may be a little safer in the water when it is dark too because they have a long swim to safety that first night. Also if the hatchlings came out in the daytime the sun and sand might be too hot and they would dehydrate. Sometimes we do get a rare early morning or daytime nest. This is usually when the weather is cooler, it’s raining or it’s a cloudy day and the sand is cooler. It is thought that the baby turtles see the white tops of the waves to show them the way to the ocean...it is not the moon they are looking for. But this is the reason that the Turtle Patrol asks for ocean front lights to be turned off at night during the turtle season, a baby turtle may get confused by lights on the beach or pier and head in the wrong direction.

Q: Can you tell if the baby turtles (hatchlings) are girls or boys?

The sex of the baby turtle is determined by the amount of “heat” in the nest itself. For loggerheads in North Carolina, warmer temperatures (>84.6 °F) produce more females, while cooler temperatures (<84.6 °F) produce more males. Constant temperatures of 84.6 °F will produce equal numbers of both sexes; this is called the pivotal temperature. Because we are cooler than beaches further south, North Carolina tends to have more boy turtles than girl turtles. We can not tell the sex of a hatchling.

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