Metabolic heating and the prediction of sex ratios for green turtles (Chelonia mydas)

Physiol Biochem Zool. Mar-Apr 2001;74(2):161-70. doi: 10.1086/319661.


We compared incubation temperatures in nests (n=32) of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) on Ascension Island in relation to sand temperatures of control sites at nest depth. Intrabeach thermal variation was low, whereas interbeach thermal variation was high in both control and nest sites. A marked rise in temperature was recorded in nests from 30% to 40% of the way through the incubation period and attributed to metabolic heating. Over the entire incubation period, metabolic heating accounted for a mean rise in temperature of between 0.07 degrees and 2.86 degrees C within nests. During the middle third of incubation, when sex is thought to be determined, this rise in temperature ranged between 0.07 degrees and 2.61 degrees C. Metabolic heating was related to both the number of eggs laid and the total number of hatchlings/embryos produced in a clutch. For 32 clutches in which temperature was recorded, we estimate that metabolic heating accounted for a rise of up to 30% in the proportion of females produced within different clutches. Previous studies have dismissed any effect of metabolic heating on the sex ratio of marine turtle hatchlings. Our results imply that metabolic heating needs to be considered when estimating green turtle hatchling sex ratios.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Seasons
  • Sex Ratio*
  • Turtles / physiology*