Baby Painted turtle. Photo Credit: Gary Walts/The Post-Standar
Baby Painted turtle. Photo Credit: Gary Walts/The Post-Standard

Sarah Hollins, Global Animal

Global warming may be doing more than just melting ice caps—it could be wiping out the male sex of an entire species of turtles.

The sex of painted turtles largely relies on the temperature in their surrounding environment. Unlike human gender, which is determined by chromosomes, the gender for these turtles is determined by temperature.

The warmer the climate, the greater the chance the turtles that hatch from the eggs will be female. The cooler the climate, the greater the chance the turtles that hatch will be male.

While these baby turtles can have a chance at a more balanced gender ratio if their mothers nest earlier, this premature nesting practice is no longer a powerful tool against the continual rising of the Earth’s temperature. Just one degree higher could increase the chances of all the eggs being female.

Scientists have predicted that the earth’s temperature will rise between four and six degrees Celsius within the next 100 years.

The turtles, who have not had adequate time to evolve to this change, would most likely be helpless to the gender neutralization, says Iowa State Biologist Rory Telemco. As one of the leading authors on the subject, Telemco has closely studied the turtles at Iowa State University.

Telemco believes the turtles could possibly overcome the climate change, claiming, “As a group, turtles have been on earth for 200 million years. The earth’s changed a lot over that period. So they have some potential to respond to environmental changes. The question is, what avenues might work, and what avenues might not.”

A Nesting Painted Turtle. Photo Credit: F.J. Janzen
A Nesting Painted Turtle. Photo Credit: F.J. Janzen

Telemco hopes the turtles will follow the precedence of other animals and insects who have recently adapted and performed their biological rituals earlier in the season.

Telemco says, “We see leaves bursting earlier on trees. Birds and butterflies are migrating earlier. Frogs are singing earlier, and things like turtles and lizards are nesting earlier in the year. It’s a really common response.”

Despite this positive shift in the behavior of other animals, Telemco and his colleagues have studied the turtles‘ version of this biological adaptation and have found that their defense mechanism of earlier nesting does not help very much.

If the turtles can’t find another way to escape the climbing temperatures, they will be in danger of having either all female nests or abismal survival rates within the nests.

Without male turtles, the females will not be able to mate and produce enough offspring to sustain the species and with the possibility of little to no surviving eggs, they will have no chance at all.

If politicians continue to belittle the seriously looming threat of global warming, the Painted turtles could soon be extinct.

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