This week we are hearing from Jeff, a fellow educator at one of our sister Aquariums, about their white loggerhead sea turtle, Nimbus.
I am an educator here at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. I love working with all of the animals here, especially the sea turtles! Today, I will be talking to you about our local sea turtle celebrity named Nimbus. I am going to refer to Nimbus as a male, even though it is hard to tell whether a sea turtle is a male or female until they are older.
Nimbus is a white loggerhead sea turtle. He is five years old, weighs more than 20 pounds and was found on one of our local beaches still in his eggshell. Nimbus is special because he has a skin mutation that makes him white, instead of the brownish color of a typical loggerhead.
Albino animals have the same physical features of other members of their species, except they have inherited a recessive trait from their parents that interrupts the making of the pigment melanin. Pigments are what give nature color, and melanin is the primary pigment that determines the color of an animal’s skin, eyes and fur. Most albino animals, for example, have white or yellow skin and either red or bright blue eyes.
The melanin in an animal’s skin serves several important purposes. Melanin is the first defense against the harmful rays of the sun. Light skin and lack of melanin can make albino animals more susceptible to sunburn and even skin cancer. Lack of melanin often causes vision problems because the eyes do not develop correctly without it. Nimbus, for example, has limited vision and was found to be blind in one eye.
Nimbus was also born with a mouth deformity called a cleft palate which made it more difficult for him to eat and escape from his egg. If Nimbus had not been found by a volunteer he probably wouldn’t have been able to break free of his shell. He initially had difficulty eating but now visitors can watch him get fed in his exhibit every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning.
White animals like Nimbus do sometimes survive in the wild, but they are much less common because they lack protective camouflage. Most animals, including sea turtles, rely on camouflage in order to hide from predators, especially when they are young.
If you would like to see Nimbus in person, please come by the aquarium here at Pine Knoll Shores and check him out. If you can’t make it to the Aquarium, we have our very own lesson plan on Nimbus to bring into your classroom. Check out our Sea Turtle Genetics lesson plan. You can also refer back to Luna, our albino alligator, as well.
Our loggerhead hatchlings are still growing! This week Turtle A is 15.8 long and weighs 631 grams and Turtle B is 15.0 cm long and weighs 565 grams. Not sure what to do with this weight and length? Learn more in our Hatchling to Yearling lesson plan.