Buried treasure—marine turtles do not ‘disguise’ or ‘camouflage’ their nests but avoid them and create a decoy trail
journal contributionposted on 2020-05-01, 00:00 authored by Thomas Burns, R R Thomson, R A McLaren, J Rawlinson, E McMillan, H Davidson, M W Kennedy
After laying their eggs and refilling the egg chamber, sea turtles scatter sand extensively around the nest site. This is presumed to camouflage the nest, or optimize local conditions for egg development, but a consensus on its function is lacking. We quantified activity and mapped the movements of hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) turtles during sand-scattering. For leatherbacks, we also recorded activity at each sand-scattering position. For hawksbills, we recorded breathing rates during nesting as an indicator of metabolic investment and compared with published values for leatherbacks. Temporal and inferred metabolic investment in sand-scattering was substantial for both species. Neither species remained near the nest while sand-scattering, instead moving to several other positions to scatter sand, changing direction each time, progressively displacing themselves from the nest site. Movement patterns were highly diverse between individuals, but activity at each sand-scattering position changed little between completion of egg chamber refilling and return to the sea. Our findings are inconsistent with sand-scattering being to directly camouflage the nest, or primarily for modifying the nest-proximal environment. Instead, they are consistent with the construction of a series of dispersed decoy nests that may reduce the discovery of nests by predators.