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Twice every second year: reproduction in the pig-nosed turtle, Carettochelys insculpta, in the wet-dry tropics of Australia

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J. Sean Doody

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The reproductive biology of female pig-nosed turtles Carettochelys insculpta was studied for 4 years in the wet-dry tropics of northern Australia. Females matured at around 6 kg body mass (38.0 cm curved carapace length, 30.5 cm plastron length). Turtles produced egg sizes and clutch sizes similar to that of other turtle species similar in size. Turtles reproduced every second year, but produced two clutches within years, about 41 days apart. Thus, it appeared that females were energy limited, possibly due to the low available energy content of the dry season diet (aquatic vegetation). Life-history theory predicts that some costly behaviour associated with reproduction exists, such that by skipping years turtles could reduce that cost and put the savings into future reproduction. Previous work revealed no behaviour associated with reproduction in the population. Within years, clutch mass did not differ between early (first) and late (second) clutches. However, early clutches tended to have more eggs per clutch but smaller eggs than late clutches, a new finding for turtles that has been demonstrated in lizards and other animals. Because the study spanned both years with 'big' and 'small' wet seasons, we were able to examine how the magnitude of the wet season influenced reproductive characteristics. Following big wet seasons, turtles produced larger, heavier, and more eggs per clutch than they did after small wet seasons. Relationships among body size, egg size and clutch size were evident after two big wet seasons but not apparent after two small wet seasons. Collectively, annual variation in reproductive characteristics and current life-history theory suggest that a big wet season is a time of high energy accumulation for the turtles.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.