Turtles are famously known for their shells. This hard structure, also known as a carapace, gives them protection in the wild and can help sea turtles camouflage in the ocean. Sea turtles also provide a service with their shells for other animals in the ocean. Many animals use sea turtle shells as a home to live on and others use them as feeding stations.
Sea turtles in the ocean usually have tiny creatures called epibionts that live on their shell. An epibiont is basically a small hitchhiker that lives on the surface of another living animal. There have been more than 100 different species of epibionts identified on loggerhead shells. Common ones found on sea turtles are barnacles, algae, and small crabs. Not only do sea turtles provide a home for these critters, but they also give them a ride from reef to reef in the ocean so they can expand their genetic diversity and habitat.
Sea turtles and their shells are also popular among fishes that like to eat those hitchhiking critters. This important relationship benefits both the fish and the sea turtle., The fish eat a meal while the sea turtle gets a cleaning. If too many critters live on a sea turtle’s shell it can affect the way the animal moves in the ocean, making it less streamlined for swimming.
These are just a few ways that sea turtles are so important to the ecosystem. They provide a home to others and provide food for fish. Our loggerhead hatchlings, and their shells, are still growing! This week, Turtle A is 191 grams and 10.2 cm and Turtle B is 157 grams and 9.3 cm. For more information on what to do with those numbers, please check out our lesson: Hatchling to Yearling.