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Revealed At Local Seminar: Turtles Talk To Each Other

Brett Blume
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CLAYTON, Mo. (KMOX) – A gathering of the “Turtle Survival Alliance” in our area this week has revealed some previously unknown facts about turtles.

Not only are they not deaf, as long believed, but they vocalize to each other — even before they break out of their shells.

“We found that, like alligators, the hatchlings are talking in the egg to synchronize hatching,” explains researcher Dr. Richard Vogt with the National Institute for Amazon Research. “Then they synchronize digging out of the nest together.”

Vogt said he noticed turtles moving their mouths underwater as far back as 1975, but fundraising issues long prevented him from following up on his findings.

Finally he got his hands on some hydrophones, microphones that can record sound underwater, and was amazed by what he heard.

“We took the hydrophone one day and put it down in the aquarium that had turtles in it,” Vogt says. “And yes, they were vocalizing!”

He explains this is more than just an interesting tidbit to those who study the animals, it goes a long way toward explaining turtle behavior.

“Why do two-hundred turtles come out of the water instantaneously? Now we know…they’re talking to each other,” Vogt says.

Another revelation made during the Clayton seminar is that turtles are much better parents than previously thought and instead of abandoning their newborns to fend for themselves, will use vocalizations to guide young turtles to places where they can find food.

“This is really important for conservation efforts,” Vogt points out. “Because a lot of people who work in conservation like to handle aminals and then release them where they think the turtle should be. They think they know better than nature.”

He adds the new information on turtle vocalization should explode some previously-held notions that turtles are “pre-programmed” to find their way back home no matter where they’re dropped off, but instead are guided by the voices of other turtles.

The 11th annual “Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles” runs through Saturday at the Sheraton in Clayton.

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