Sea Turtle Breeding and Reproduction

The reproduction process of sea turtles is important as it is what keeps the various species alive. The age for maturity significantly varies from one species to the next. For some, it is when they are 3-5 years of age. For others though it is as late as 20-50 years of age. It will depend on the type of sea turtle species you are talking about.

The mating process takes place in the water so there isn’t too much known about it. This has been confirmed due to the fact that the males don’t make their way to the shore. They always remain in the water for most of the sea turtle species. It is believed the courting process can take place for several weeks before mating occurs. The males may compete with each other by seeing who can raise their neck the highest.

It is common for there to be more males than females, so she gets her pick of who she wants to mate with. It isn’t uncommon for the males and females to travel hundreds of miles to where they will mate and then the females will lay their eggs. Older females may have marks on their backs from the mating process. It is believed the males use the claws on their front flippers to hold onto the female while mating is taking place.

Sea turtle reproduction facts

Green turtle laying eggs on the beach.

There is speculation that mating in colder waters will result in the offspring being mostly male. When the mating takes place in warm waters then the offspring will be mostly female. It is also believed that more of the males survive to maturity than the females. The reason for this isn’t yet known though.

Within a few weeks of the mating process, the female is ready to go to shore. She will dig a nest and there she will lay her eggs. Depending on the species of sea turtle, she may deposit from 50 to 200 eggs at a time. Many species of sea turtles are able to return to the water, mate again, and go back to create a new nest. They can do this two or three times over the course of the mating season.

Some species of sea turtles will have all the females going to land to deposit eggs at the same time. They will dig a big nest and all lay their eggs in one location. It is a fascinating experience to watch them work together and do this. It is also entertaining to watch the hatchlings emerge and make their way to the water. The incubation period for the eggs is from 45 to 70 days depending on the type of sea turtle. The gender of the turtles will be determined by the temperature in nest.

Sea turtle mating process.

Newborn Leatherback sea turtle.

The mother never goes back to check on her eggs or to associate with the young. Many of them die because they can’t get out of the shell. Others become lunch for birds or other predators in the area. Even in the water these younglings become food for many forms of aquatic life. There is also the human element which is to collect the sea turtle eggs for food instead of letting them hatch. It is estimated that only 10% of the hatchlings will survive to adulthood.

There is plenty of research to indicate that females will follow the same pattern year after year, each two or three years. They will migrate to the same location to deposit their eggs their entire life. It also seems that the hatchlings will return to the same spot where they were born. There is still more information that needs to be examined to explain this phenomenon though.