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Change in body mass associated with long-term fasting in a marine reptile: the case of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) at Ascension Island

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Female green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) nesting at Ascension Island (7°57'S, 14°22'W) in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean had a mean body mass (post oviposition) of 166.3 kg (range 107.5–243.5 kg, n = 119). Individuals lost mass slowly during the nesting season (mean mass loss 0.22 kg·d–1, n = 14 individuals weighed more than once). Gut-content analysis and behavioural observations indicated a lack of feeding. Females of equivalent-sized pinniped species that also do not feed while reproducing (nursing pups) on islands lose mass about 17 times faster. This comparatively low rate of mass loss by green turtles probably reflects their ectothermic nature and, consequently, their low metabolic rate. We estimate that a female turtle would lose only 19% of her body mass during the 143-day, 4400-km round trip from Brazil if she did not eat, laid 3 clutches of eggs, and lost 0.22 kg·d–1.

La masse moyenne, après la ponte, des tortues marines Chelonia mydas femelles qui nichent dans l'île de l'Ascension (7°57'S, 14°22'O), au milieu de l'Atlantique, est de 166,3 kg (n = 119, étendue 107,5–243,5 kg). Les tortues subissent une perte de masse graduelle au cours de la saison de nidification (n = 14 individus pesés plus d'une fois, perte de masse moyenne de 0,22 kg/jour). L'analyse des contenus stomacaux et des observations du comportement ont révélé un arrêt de l'alimentation. Des pinnipèdes femelles de taille équivalente, qui cessent également de s'alimenter pendant la saison de la reproduction (allaitement) dans les îles, subissent des pertes de masse 17 fois plus rapides. Le taux relativement faible de perte de masse chez ces tortues marines reflète probablement leur ectothermie et, conséquemment, leur taux de métabolisme faible. Nous estimons qu'une tortue femelle qui ne mange pas, qui pond trois masses d'oeufs et qui perd 0,22 kg/jour, ne perdrait que 19 % de sa masse totale au cours de sa migration aller-retour du Brésil, un parcours de 4400 km, d'une durée de 143 jours.[Traduit par la Rédaction]

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2002

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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