Arxiu d'etiquetes: sea turtle

The elderly organisms of the oceans

Have you ever wondered which are the longest-lived organisms of the seas and oceans of the Earth? The sea turtles are well known to have long lives. But, ¿which is the oldest organism of the ocean (and the planet)?

BOWHEAD WHALES

The bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus), also called Arctic right whales, live most of the year associated with sea ice in the Arctic ocean. These marine mammals are among the largest animals on Earth, weighing up to 75-100 tons and with a length of 14-17 m on males and 16-18 m on females.

Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) (Picture: WWF).
Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) (Picture: WWF).

More than 20 years ago, in 1993, it was discovered by chance that bowhead whales have a longer life than previously thought. Their lifespan was considered to be about 50 years, but the unexpected discovery let to know that they live more than 100 years. In fact, some individuals are known to have lived for about 200 years.

Which was that fortuitous discovery? An Alaskan Eskimo hunted an individual with the tip of a harpoon inside its blubber. This harpoon was created with a technique not used for 100 years.

They are among the mammals that get much older, even among other whales. And the explanation to this fact lies on the extreme cold of their habitat: they have to invest so much energy in maintaining the body temperature that their first pregnancy is usually at 26 years and, therefore, they have a long life expectancy.

SEA TURTLES

In the famous Disney movie Finding Nemo, Marlin, Nemo’s father, meets Crush, a 150-year-old sea turtle. However, do sea turtles live so much?

Do you want to discover the amazing life of the sea turtles? Do you want to know the reason why sea turtles are threatened?

Sea turtles have long lives, but their age is unknown (Picture: Key West Aquarium).
Sea turtles have long lives, but their age is unknown (Picture: Key West Aquarium).

It is well-known that sea turtles have a long life, but their ages are barely known. It has been confirmed that growth lines in some turtle bones are laid down annually, but due to growing at different rates depending on the age, this cannot be used to estimate their age.

However, scientist believe that these awesome reptiles may live long like whales. Those turtles that outlive the first stages of life can expect to live at least 50 years. In addition, biological aging is nearly suspended for these animals.

Despite unknowing the age of the oldest wild sea turtle, it is said to be a 400-year-old captive sea turtle in China.

THE OLDEST KNOWN ANIMALS

Black corals are the oldest known animals on Earth. Notwithstanding, they are not the oldest organisms on the planet.

Leiopathes sp. is a genus of black corals that can live several millenniums (Picture: CBS News).
Leiopathes sp. is a genus of black corals that can live several millenniums (Picture: CBS News).

These coal-dark-skeleton corals grow a great deal less than a millimetre per year, such as the Mediterranean red coral. Despite its name, they usually show yellow, red, brown and green colours. Although they are considered deep-sea corals, they are found worldwide and at all depths.

Research in 2009 demonstrated that a Hawaiian black coral individual included in the Leiopathes glaberrima species had been living and growing since the building of Egyptian pyramids; 4,600 years ago.

Like sea turtles, in case an individual survives the first century of age, there is every likelihood of  living for a millennium or more.

THE IMMORTAL JELLYFISH

It is a fact of life that all living beings die; except for Turritopsis nutricula, the immortal jellyfish. This small (4.5 mm) bell-shaped jellyfish is immortal owing to the fact that possess the capability to age in reverse.

The immortal jellyfish, Turritopsis nutricula (Picture: Bored Panda).
The immortal jellyfish, Turritopsis nutricula (Picture: Bored Panda).

This species starts its life being a mass of polyps growing in the seafloor, which in some point produce jellyfishes that develop gonads to create the following generation of polyps, and then die. This has nothing special in comparison with other jellyfishes. Learn more about these beautiful animals here.

This cnidarian species, under the presence of a stressor or injury, transforms all its cells into larval forms. It is that changes from an adult to a larva. Then, every single larva can transform into a new adult. That process is named transdifferentiation. Little do scientists know about this process in the wild.

Transdifferentiation in Turritopsis nutricula (Picture: Bored Panda).
Transdifferentiation in Turritopsis nutricula (Picture: Bored Panda).

THE OLDEST ORGANISM ON EARTH

The oldest organism on Earth is neither an animal, algae nor a microorganism. The most elderly organism in the planet is a plant. In concrete, a marine plant known as Posidonia oceanica, commonly known as Neptune Grass or Mediterranean tapeweed. Do you want to know the reason why the Posidonia ecosystems are considered the marine jungles?

pradera posidonia oceanica
Posidonia oceanica meadow (Picture: SINC).

Spanish researchers found out that in Formentera (Balearic Islands) there is a 100,000-year-old Posidonia clone. This means this is the longest-living organism on the biosphere.

The key to understand its age is the clonal growth: it is based on the constant division of cells placed in the meristems and on the extremely slow growth of its stalk (rhizomes).

REFERENCES

  • Arnaud-Haond S, Duarte CM, Diaz-Almela E, Marba` N, Sintes T, et al. (2012) Implications of Extreme Life Span in Clonal Organisms: Millenary Clones in Meadows of the Threatened Seagrass Posidonia oceanica. PLoS ONE 7(2): e30454. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030454
  • NOAA: Black corals of Hawaii
  • Palumbi, S.R & Palumbi, A.R (2014). The extreme life of the sea. Princepton University Press
  • Reference: The oldest sea turtle
  • Rugh, D.J. & Shelden, K.E.W. (2009). Bowhead whale. Balaena mysticetus. In Perrin, W.F; Würsig, B & Thewissen, J.G.M. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press (2 ed).
  • Schiffman, J & Breen, M (2008). Comparative oncology: what dogs and other species can teach us about humans with cancer. The Royal Society Publishing. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0231
  • WWF: How long do sea turtles live? And other sea turtle facts
  • Cover picture: Takashi Murai (Bored Panda)

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How is the life of a marine turtle?

I have talked about marine turtles in some past posts. In concrete, about the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). In the following weeks, I am going to talk more about this amazing marine animals. In particular, this week I will explain how is the life of a marine turtle, especially about the loggerhead sea turtle, and in the next one, I am talking about which are the threats that endanger these animals and about what we can do to save them. 

INTRODUCTION

Loggerhead sea turtle is one of the seven sea turtles on Earth. It has a worldwide distribution, being the most abundant species in the Mediterranean, and it can be identified by the presence of a carapace that measures between 80 and 100 cm long with 5 lateral scutes, so that the first of them is in contact with the nuchal scute. It is endangered according to IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). The loggerhead sea turtle feeds on jelly plankton like jellyfishes during the oceanic stage, but feeds on fishes and squids in the neritic stage. Additionally, they can consume salt water due to the presence of salt glands placed in the cranium. Like other sea turtles, it cannot hide its head and fins inside the carapace.

Claus d'identificació de la tortuga babaua (Caretta caretta) (Foto extreta de MarineBio).
Identification key for a loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) (Picture from MarineBio).

HOW IS THE LIFE OF A MARINE TURTLE?

In marine turtles, the reproductive cycles are circadian, it is that it happens regularly over the time. The periodicity depends on each species, but in the case of the loggerhead sea turtle usually is biannual, so it takes place every two years (but sometimes every three years). Anyway, this cycle is not strict because it is dependant on some factors like food availability or illnesses.

The gregarious behaviour of many species is explained for the ability to recognise the individuals of the same species. In order to recognise each other, most of the species use smell, but they can use sight and sound. During the mating, when the female accept the male, the male bites the female in the neck and in the anterior fins. The male put itself on the female and catches her with the nails of the anterior fins (in the case of the loggerhead, it has two nails per fin). Mating takes place in the sea and usually in the first hours of the day. Moreover, a female can be impregnated by several males.

Aparellament de la tortuga babaua (Caretta caretta) (Foto: OceanWide Images).
Mating of a loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) (Picture: OceanWide Images).

The moment when the marine turtles lay the eggs depend on the moon phases, tides, temperature and wind, but it usually happens during summer in sandy beaches. Females return to the beaches where they were born, coming from feeding grounds. They navigate using marine currents, temperature changes, magnetic signals and the sound and smell of the beach.

Depending on the features of the beach, this will be more or less suitable for each marine turtle species. The loggerhead prefers open and shallow beaches and bays, continental or insular, with a slope between 5-10º and with a calm swell. Moreover, these beaches have to be protected by bushes in the terrestrial part and by coral or rockery reefs in the marine part. They usually lay on the first terrace of the beach, in zones without plants and in the first attempt. All the sea turtles have in common the fact that the lay is done beyond the highest tide.

When the female finds the place, with the anterior fins do a cavity where to place its body (called bed) and next, with the posterior fins, dig out the nest and place the eggs. During the period from which the female leave the water and dig out the nest, the animal is very sensitive to bother and can stop doing the nest and come back to water. 

Sea turtles do several lays per year. In the case of loggerheads, they usually do between 2 and 4 lays per year, with 100 eggs that weights 40 grammes (this is 4 kilos per lay). Despite of this, we have to have in consideration that the number of eggs produced for a female is limited by the capacity of storage of the female, which is related with the size. Between each lay in the same reproductive cycle, the mating is not necessary because they can store sperm.

Tortuga en la fase de posta dels ous (Foto: Brandon Cole).
Turtle laying the eggs in a beach (Picture: Brandon Cole).

Eggs are incubated during 50-60 days under the sand of the beach (in the loggerhead). The hatching is synchronized and when the small turtles reach the surface in few minutes are oriented thanks to the beach slope, the sound of the waves and the light of the moon on the sea.

Cria d'una tortuga babaua (Caretta caretta) sortint de l'ou (Foto: Rewilding Europe).
Loggerhead sea turtle baby (Caretta caretta) (Picture: Rewilding Europe).

During the first days of life, turtles present a high buoyancy. In the first weeks, small turtles remain in marine currents and gyres, where food is abundant, so they have a pelagic life. If they are male, the most probable is that they will never touch the land. 

When they are born, the carapace is soft  and, for this reason, the number of individuals that will survive is just a 10% of which leave the egg due to the predators, like crabs, sharks and seagulls. During the first year only survives 10-30% of the animals. Year after year, the mortality rate decreases for the increase of size and the hardening of the carapace. A study has found that just 10 out of every 10.000 eggs will become adults and just one will die for age.

Adult de tortuga babaua (Caretta caretta) (Foto: Deviant Art).
Adult of a loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) (Picture: Deviant Art).

Sea turtles do long-distance migrations, specially in the young stage. When they abandon the beach where they were born, during the next 10 years, they will be travelling long distances. The migrations are between feeding and reproductive grounds.

Then, the cycle restarts with the newborns.

REFERENCES

  • Cardona L, Álvarez de Quevedo I, Borrell A, Aguilar A (2012). Massive Consumption of Gelatinous Plankton by Mediterranean Apex Predators. PLoS ONE 7(3): e31329. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031329
  • Consejería de Medio Ambiente de la Junta de Andalucía (2014). Varamientos de Especies Marinas Amenazadas. Guías prácticas voluntariado ambiental.
  • CRAM: Caretta caretta
  • Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. 1988. Synopsis of the biological data on the Loggerhead Sea Turtle Caretta caretta (Linnaeus 1758). U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv., Biol. Rep. 88(14). 110 pp.
  • IUCN: Caretta caretta 
  • Márquez, R (1996). Las tortugas marinas y nuestro tiempo. México: IEPSA
  • Smith, T & Smith R (2007). Ecología. Pearson Educación (6 ed.)

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