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Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles (2/3)
Green Sea Turtle Characteristics
Green sea turtles are reptiles, so they are cold blooded (they get their body heat from the environment). They breathe air and their skin has scales. In addition, they also have a bony outer shell. This shell protects them from predators and covers both the dorsal (back) and ventral (belly) areas of the turtle.
The green sea turtle’s shell is normally olive brown to black, with a yellow or white underbelly. The shell is molted, meaning it has a varying color pattern. There are no green sea turtles with solid colored shells. Their patterned shells help them hide from predators.
Unlike land turtles, the honu cannot retract their heads into their shells for protection. Their bodies are perfectly adapted for life in the ocean. The green sea turtle’s shell is lighter and more streamlined than a land turtle. The front and rear feet have evolved to become flippers, which makes navigating through the water much more simple. They are graceful swimmers and can swim long distances quickly. Green sea turtles have been known to move through the water at 35 mph.
The green sea turtle must swim to the surface every few minutes in order to breathe. However, when they are sleeping or resting at night adult sea turtles can remain underwater for nearly 2 hours without breathing. However, this ability develops with age, so young sea turtles must sleep floating on the water’s surface.
Honu Eating Habits
Adult green sea turtles are herbivorous, unlike other varieties of sea turtle. They eat primarily sea grasses and algae that create greenish body fat and give the turtle its name. Since they eat only plants, they do not pose a threat to any other marine animals. They depend on bacteria in their guts for digestion, just like cows.
Interestingly, young sea turtles are carnivorous. They eat jellyfish and other invertebrates. Once a sea turtle matures, it switches to an herbivore diet and feasts on the algae and sea grass in coral reefs and rocky shorelines. This makes Hanauma Bay a perfect feeding ground for sea turtles and keeps them coming back for more.
Green sea turtle shells are often covered with patches of algae. Many fish in the reef eat algae from the backs of turtles. The turtles and fish have developed a symbiotic relationship and both species benefit from their arrangement. The fish get to eat and the honu gets its shell clean.