Sea Turtle Life Cycle

The life of a sea turtle starts when an adult female lays its eggs on a nesting beach, usually in the tropics. From six weeks to two months later (depending on the species), a tiny hatchling makes its way to the surface of the sand and heads to the water, dodging every predator imaginable. From there, they head out to sea to feed and grow, eventually returning to the same beaches (generally but now always) to lay eggs, completing the cycle.

Hatchlings: Before they are baby turtles, they start out as eggs laid by an adult female on a beach. They incubate in the sand for up to 2 months before emerging and making their way to the water. They face a daunting number of predators along the way including crabs, fish, raccoons, birds, fish, and domestic animals like dogs and cats in some places. Learn more about sea turtle hatchlings.

Juveniles: From the time the hatchlings take their first swim until they return to coastal waters to forage as juveniles may be as long as a decade. This period of time is often referred to as the "lost years" since following sea turtles movements during this phase is difficult and their whereabouts are often unknown. Following the "lost years", when they have grown to approximately the size of a dinner plate, their pelagic (open ocean) phase comes to an end and they return to coastal waters where they forage and continue to mature. Learn more about juvenile turtles.

Adults: Ten to thirty years after hatching (depending on the species), adult sea turtles reach sexual maturity and are able to mate. Once they reach sexual maturity they will migrate to beaches around the world to nest. Only females will come ashore to lay eggs, generally in the area where they were born. Most species will nest several times during a nesting season every 2-4 years over the course of their lifetime. It is not known exactly how long sea turtles live in the wild, but scientists think their life span may be as long as a century. Unfortunately though, turtles face a multitude of threats related to human activities. Learn more about adult sea turtles.

Sea Turtle Diet: What a sea turtle eats depends upon the species. Some are omnivores, eating a variety of plants and animals, while the hawksbill and the leatherback are specialists, subsisting primarily of sponges (hawksbills) and jellyfish (leatherbacks). Sea turtle mouths and jaws are also shaped differently depending on their particular diet. Learn more about the diet of sea turtles.

Sea Turtle Migration: Most sea turtles migrate between foraging and nesting grounds, and seasonally to warmer waters. Often these migrations take them hundreds and even thousands of miles. Sea turtles nest in tropical and subtropical regions around the globe. Both males and females will migrate to nesting areas to breed, generally in the area where they were born. It is not known exactly how adult turtles are able to navigate to their natal (birth) beaches, however, researchers think they may use a number of clues including ocean currents, the earth's magnetic field, and water chemistry. Learn more about sea turtle migration.

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