Do Freshwater Turtles Bask in the Moonlight for Romantic Reasons?

A lot of cold-blooded animals bask in the sun to raise their body temperature, conserve energy, and for comfort. Many of these animals are insects, birds, and reptiles.

Freshwater turtles are among them, a fact known to scientists for many years.

Photo: YouTube/Who’s Who

But a new phenomenon was discovered by Eric Nordberg, an ecologist at the University of New England in Australia, and Don McKnight, a biologist at La Trobe University. Freshwater turtles basking in the moonlight!

They made the discovery along Ross River in the coastal city of Townsville, Australia while riding on a canoe one evening. It was the first time they had seen this kind of behavior among turtles — basking at night. Yes, it’s common behavior among these species at daytime. But basking in the moonlight?

The two scientists asked their colleagues if anyone else had observed such turtle behavior. Nope. And there was no study ever conducted on it.

Photo: YouTube/Who’s Who

And so, to find out if the phenomenon was true only among Krefft’s turtles in Townsville, Nordberg and McKnight did a worldwide survey. And despite the challenges of the pandemic, many scientists responded and helped them with data-gathering.

Finally, it was confirmed. Freshwater turtles around the world bask at night, primarily those who live near the equator. But why do these turtles do it? Isn’t basking at daytime not enough for their thermoregulation? Is basking in the moonlight more romantic for them and their prospective mates?

Or does nocturnal basking make them safer from predators? But, to the scientists’ greater amazement, freshwater turtles have the habit of basking in the moonlight alongside crocodiles — at times, they even do it on the back of these giant crocs!

Photo: YouTube/Who’s Who

The answer to the mystery seems to have been found by an honors student at James Cook University, Rosie Kidman. She experimented with 25 Krefft’s turtles and the results showed that the turtles engage in nocturnal basking when the water is too warm for them.

The scientists further opine that this behavior will become even more common as these reptiles’ response to the planet’s rising temperatures due to climate change.

Indeed, everyone has to fight in order to survive amid an increasingly unpredictable world.

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