HOW TO: UNDERSTAND FEMALE BEHAVIOUR
Yes that’s right its that time of year again, the mangoes are ripening, the humidity is building, the tourists are arriving- But that’s not the point of this post! It’s the nesting turtle time of year. They arrive along the sandy beaches of Southern Mozambique in late October and November.
We are lucky enough to have two species of turtle grace our shores, the Loggerhead and the Leatherback. Generally nesting occurs during the night, so often unless you spend a lot of time wandering the beaches in the evening, you often miss their visit (even though they are large and cumbersome out of water). But don’t worry there are a few re-assuring things to know about the nesting female.
She likes to be quite consistent– females using natal homing to return to the same nesting beaches nesting season.
She will visit multiple times– Females lay multiple nests, each with a clutch of ~100 eggs (Total number of eggs and nests depends on the species).
She isn’t in a hurry– Nesting mothers usually spend a minimum of an hour (except of Olive Ridleys, who are speedy nesters!), on the beach, lugging themselves to the base of the primary dune, digging her body pit, egg chamber and then laying her eggs.
She is stubborn– The nesting female will often, persist with digging through thick vegetation, pebbles and gravel, muddy soil layers even (unfortunately) buried rubbish to dig the perfect nest!
She thinks she has a great talent for hiding things– Once she has laid her eggs, she fills in the egg chamber and then starts to disguise the nesting location, she also then begins to dig a new nest to act as a decoy to mislead hungry predators to the original nest location.
She can be short tempered and feisty– Understandably, if you interrupt her during the nesting process she will often immediately abort what she is doing and high-tail it to the water. If you encounter a nesting turtle, keep a respectable distance and always stay to the rear of her. Do not touch a nesting turtle or her eggs as you could transfer diseases, or chemicals (from your DEET insect repellent, perfume, sunscreen). Also she has easily enough strength in her flippers to smack you (with long lasting bruises) and scratch you (they have claws in their flippers), so probably best to give her some space.
Her eyesight is not so good-”If you use RED lights”- Turtles lack the sensitivity to red colours, but are highly sensitive to blues and whites. This means that artificial lighting (from your torch, house, high-beams, hotel, jetty) is enough to either discourage the turtle from coming to make a visit or causing her to get very disorientated once she has arrived. Be considerate if you live in coastal areas between Oct-April, use less lights, shut your curtains, use red and orange coloured bulbs instead.
She is up to date with the latest fashions! Whilst visiting, nesting females often swing via the beauty parlor for a flipper piercing or this seasons fashion backpack. One of the most commonly used techniques to learn about turtles is by knowing which animal is which (and then where each ones goes). This is often done by tagging one of the first three scales on the trailing inner edge of her front flippers. Turtles are often tagged in one place and re-sighted in another, so if you see a tagged turtle, write down the code (numbers and letters) and it is possible to track the turtle.
If she has come from one of the fancier parts of town she may also be sporting a satellite tag, which is either glued or harnessed (like a backpack) to her carapace (shell).
With these insights in mind, you now are fully prepared to embrace the next four months of the 2013/2014 year and welcome these old gal’s to our shores.
MOST IMPORTANTLY- In Mozambique, especially Inhambane Province, poaching of nesting turtles and their eggs still occurs even though it is illegal. If you see any nesting turtles or their tracks please get in contact with me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or email@example.com and +258 84 205 9440.
If you’d like to read more, check out this post I wrote at the beginning of last nesting season: http://mozturtles.com/2012/10/12/its-nesting-season/