First record of hybridization between green Chelonia mydas and hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata sea turtles in the Southeast Pacific

PeerJ. 2016 Feb 18:4:e1712. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1712. eCollection 2016.


Hybridization among sea turtle species has been widely reported in the Atlantic Ocean, but their detection in the Pacific Ocean is limited to just two individual hybrid turtles, in the northern hemisphere. Herein, we report, for the first time in the southeast Pacific, the presence of a sea turtle hybrid between the green turtle Chelonia mydas and the hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata. This juvenile sea turtle was captured in northern Peru (4°13'S; 81°10'W) on the 5(th) of January, 2014. The individual exhibited morphological characteristics of C. mydas such as dark green coloration, single pair of pre-frontal scales, four post-orbital scales, and mandibular median ridge, while the presence of two claws in each frontal flipper, and elongated snout resembled the features of E. imbricata. In addition to morphological evidence, we confirmed the hybrid status of this animal using genetic analysis of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome oxidase I, which revealed that the hybrid individual resulted from the cross between a female E. imbricata and a male C. mydas. Our report extends the geographical range of occurrence of hybrid sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean, and is a significant observation of interspecific breeding between one of the world's most critically endangered populations of sea turtles, the east Pacific E. imbricata, and a relatively healthy population, the east Pacific C. mydas.

Keywords: Cheloniidae; Cytochrome oxidase I; Female Eretmochelys imbricata; Hybridization; Interspecific breeding.

Grants and funding

Duke Marine Laboratory, Fund for Nature–Japan, Principia College, Krilca Gifts, CNPC-Peru and ecOceanica turtle adoption program provided funds for our research in northern Peru. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.