Diet of immature Kemp's ridley turtles (Lepidochelys kempi) from Gullivan Bay, Ten Thousand Islands, southwest Florida
To examine the diet of immature Kemp's ridley turtles, 66 fecal samples were collected and examined for 64 turtles captured in Gullivan Bay, Ten Thousand Islands, southwest Florida. Prey items were placed into six main categories and the percent frequency of occurrence (FO) and percent dry mass (DM) were calculated: live bottom (83.3% FO, 38.6% DM); crabs (72.7% FO, 34.9% DM); unidentified (63.6% FO, 24.8% DM); mollusks (40.9% FO, 1.5% DM); vegetation (22.7% FO, 0.1% DM); and fish (1.5% FO, 0.0% DM). The major prey item in the live bottom category was a benthic tunicate (Molgula occidentalis Traustedt, 1883; 72.7% FO, 30.5% DM), and the two major prey items in the crabs category were spider crabs (Libinia spp.; 42.4% FO, 13.5% DM), and the purse crab (Persephona mediterranea Herbst, 1794; 37.9% FO, 8.3% DM). There were small differences in prey consumption between turtles < 40 cm MSCL and those > 40 cm MSCL. The consumption of benthic tunicates by Kemp's ridleys has not been reported in previous dietary studies, suggesting that they are opportunistic feeders taking advantage of an abundant food source. Environmental changes influencing the tunicate population in the Ten Thousand Islands (e.g., South Florida Restoration Project) could impact this unique predator-prey relationship.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: September 1, 2005
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