Sea turtle hatchling locomotor performance: incubation moisture effects, ontogeny and species-specific patterns

Christopher R. Gatto, Richard D. Reina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Incubation conditions are critical in determining numerous traits in reptilian neonates. This is particularly significant in species with low offspring survival such as sea turtle species, because of the extremely high predation rates that hatchlings face during their initial dispersal from nesting beaches. Hatchlings that develop in suboptimal nest environments are likely to be smaller, slower and more susceptible to predation than hatchlings from optimal nest environments. Previous studies have focused on the effects of temperature on hatchling traits, but few have investigated the effects of moisture concentrations, despite moisture levels in nests influencing hatchling size, sex, incubation duration, and hatching success. Here, we incubated eggs of three sea turtle species at various moisture levels and tested the terrestrial and aquatic locomotor performance of the resultant hatchlings during the frenzy and post-frenzy period. We also compared and evaluated the ontogeny of early locomotor performance for each species over the first months of life. Drier incubation conditions produced hatchlings that crawled more slowly and took longer to self-right than hatchlings from wetter incubation conditions. There was no difference in swimming performance associated with moisture treatments. We suggest that moisture in the nest environment during incubation may influence hatchling performance via their initial hydration levels. Thus, nest moisture influences terrestrial performance (i.e., escaping from the nest and dispersing across the beach), although upon entering the ocean hatchlings have the opportunity to rehydrate by drinking and thus, differences in locomotor performance associated with moisture treatments cease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-793
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B-Biochemical Systemic and Environmental Physiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Crawling
  • Dispersal
  • Incubation conditions
  • Life history
  • Moisture
  • Swimming

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