Listen Now Download as mp3 from the show Glittering seas: the science of ocean bioluminescence
Mini ecosystems that cling to the shells of sea turtles and hitch hike across oceans are more diverse in the Atlantic compared to the Pacific, a new study from Mexico shows.
A team of researchers led by Eric Lazo-Wasme had the tough job of going down to Teopa Beach in Jalisco, Mexico and examining the creatures that have hitched a ride on the female green turtles that arrive to lay their eggs in sandy nests.
These hitch-hikers are called epibionts and most of them have only been found living on turtles.
A total of 16 species of epibionts were found, including barnacles, crabs, seaweeds, a remora or shark sucker and even leaches. That compares with up to 90 species found attached to the shells of sea turtles in the Atlantic.
Exactly why there were fewer epibiont species attached to Pacific compared to Atlantic turtles remains something of a mystery.
The study is published in the Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History and includes detailed pictures and descriptions of all the species found stuck onto the shells of green and olive ridley turtles, including instructions for future studies on how to collect these turtle hitch-hikers.
Find out more:
Lazo-Wasem et al (2011). Epibionts Associated with the Nesting Marine Turtles Lepidochelys olivacea and Chelonia mydas in Jalisco, Mexico: A Review and Field Guide. Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History 52(2):221-240. 2011 doi: 10.3374/014.052.0203