Sea turtles are loners most of their lives. But when it is time to reproduce, they seek out each other for mating. These majestic reptiles have been around for 65 million years. Sea turtles have been successfully reproducing to ensure they do not go extinct. A curious mind may wonder how sea turtles mate.
In this article, I will explain how sea turtles mate and reproduce. You will also know about the mating season. Sea turtles come to the surface or close to the surface during mating season. So, you have a higher chance of seeing sea turtles if you know when to visit the seashore.
When Do Sea Turtles Become Sexually Mature?
Sea turtles have to be sexually mature for coupling. Not all species of sea turtles become sexually mature at the same age. It is even different for the same species.
For example, leatherbacks become mature at the age of 7 to 13 years. Oliver ridleys take 11 to 16 years, hawkbills take 20 to 25 years, loggerheads take 25 to 35 years, and green sea turtles reach maturity at about 26 to 40 years.
The size of the shell also varies among mature sea turtles. While some species can reach sexual maturity at a carapace size of 20 inches, others might reach maturity at 60 inches carapace size. Researchers have found that some sea turtles may continue to grow even after reaching sexual maturity.
When Do Sea Turtles Mate?
Depending on the species of sea turtles, the nesting season of sea turtles is May to September. Hence, they should mate about a few weeks before the nesting time. The mating season begins when the day length gets longer and the temperature increases.
Sea turtles prefer a warm time for mating and nesting. The hatchlings born in warmer temperatures will be mostly females, and those born in lower temperatures will be males.
They choose a temperature when it is neither too cold nor too hot so that the number of male and female hatchlings remains balanced. This way, the mother turtles make sure the male and female sea turtle ratio is maintained for future reproduction.
Where Do Sea Turtles Mate?
The mating can occur on the surface or under the water. It depends on where the male sea turtle successfully woos the female turtle.
Sea turtles are loners. They travel far from the seashore. But when it is time for nesting, the female turtles return to the shore where they were born.
Following the trail of the female sea turtles, the male turtles also reach the shore. The female turtles need the male turtles to fertilize their eggs.
How Do Sea Turtles Mate?
A male turtle travels to a spot near the seashore where he has a higher chance of meeting female sea turtles. The male turtle court female turtles until it finds the one willing to cooperate.
Then the laborious process of mating begins.
The male turtle climbs on top of the female turtle’s carapace. It uses its front claws to hold onto the shell of the female turtle. Then the male turtle puts its long tail under the female turtle’s tail.
Both male and female sea turtles have an orifice on their tail. It is known as the cloaca. The cloaca is the only opening for turtles to defecate, mating, and lay eggs.
Female sea turtles have short tails, and the cloaca is closer to the shell’s edge. On the other hand, male sea turtles have long tails, where the cloaca is located near the end of the tail. Thus, they can easily reach the cloaca of the female turtle.
A long penis emerges from the cloaca of the male turtle and inserts the female turtle’s cloaca. If everything goes well, the male turtle successfully fertilizes the eggs of the female turtle.
Mating is not easy for the female sea turtle. A sea turtle can hold its breath underwater for hours if it is not stressed. But mating is stressful. The female turtle has to carry the male turtle on its back. Then when it is out of breath, it has to swim to the surface to get air. While trying to hold on to the female turtle, the male turtle can hurt the female turtle by scratching its shell and neck.
Things get even more complicated for both male and female turtles when other male turtles also compete to mate with the female turtle. It happens when the number of female turtles is lower than male turtles in the area.
Other male sea turtles may flock to the couple and try their best to stop the mating process. The competitors bite on the male turtle’s flippers or any body part they can reach to dislodge their rival from the female turtle. They even try to block the female turtle from getting are to get the male turtle out of breath.
Meanwhile, the mating male turtle has to hold on to the female turtle and tolerate everything to ensure his genes pass on to the eggs inside the female turtle. The male turtle has to be smart enough not to fight back with the competitors. Otherwise, he can be disclosed from the back of the female turtle.
While the male turtle struggles to hold on, the female turtle actually struggles for life. She has to get to the surface constantly to get air because of the stressful situation.
How Long Do Sea Turtles Mate?
Depending on the number of competitors, a male sea turtle may hold on to a female turtle for 3 to 24 hours. A male sea turtle wants to make sure that it is his sperm that fertilizes the eggs.
So, the long hour of matting is mostly the male sea turtle’s attempt to prevent other male turtles from matting with the female turtle.
What Happens After Sea Turtles Mate?
After the first mating, the male and female turtles go their separate ways to mate with other turtles. However, the male turtles continue to mate if they find a willing female turtle.
When the female turtles get enough sperm to fertilize all her eggs for the season, she stops mating. The female turtles will climb to the sandy beach and find a suitable place to lay their eggs for the season.
Sea turtles lay 3 to 9 clutches of egg per season. Each clutch can have 65 to 120 eggs.
The male turtles return to the shore every year to mate with mature female turtles. But female turtles nested in the previous season do not return to mate for about 3 to 4 years. They must rest after the laborious egg-laying process and re-energize for the next mating season.
Watching sea turtles mate in the wild is a fantastic experience. Their dedication to populating their species is truly remarkable. As sea turtles are hardly seen on land, people can have plenty of opportunities to watch sea turtles during the mating and nesting season.
However, if you ever see sea turtles on the beach, try not to disturb them and let them peacefully complete their reproduction process.