Australian Journal of Zoology Australian Journal of Zoology Society
Evolutionary, molecular and comparative zoology
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Freshwater turtle hatchlings that stay in the nest: strategists or prisoners?

Bruce C. Chessman
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

7 Dalrymple Crescent, Pymble, NSW 2073, Australia. Email: brucechessman@gmail.com

Australian Journal of Zoology - https://doi.org/10.1071/ZO17054
Submitted: 29 August 2017  Accepted: 8 November 2017   Published online: 30 November 2017

Abstract

Hatchlings of several species of freshwater turtles have been reported to remain in subterranean nests for extended periods following hatching from the egg. It has been suggested that this delayed emergence, including overwintering in the nest in populations at temperate latitudes, is an evolved adaptation that enables hatchlings to enter the aquatic environment at the most propitious time for survival and growth. I monitored nests of a temperate-zone population of the freshwater Australian eastern long-necked turtle (Chelodina longicollis) for up to a year after nest construction in fine-grained soils adjacent to oxbow lakes and farm ponds. An estimated 84% of nests were preyed on, probably mainly by non-native red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), whereas hatchlings emerged from autumn to spring from an estimated 5% of nests. The remaining 11% of nests were neither preyed on nor had emergence by a year after nest construction. Live hatchlings were present in some nests with no emergence up to 10 months after nest construction, but substantial numbers of dead hatchlings were present beyond nine months. It therefore seems unlikely that emergence occurs more than a year after nest construction. Delayed emergence of this species in this environment appears less likely to be an adaptive strategy than to be a consequence of imprisonment in the nest by hard soil that is difficult for hatchlings to excavate.

Additional keywords: Chelodina longicollis, delayed emergence, predation, overwintering.


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