Biologists in North Carolina’s Outer Banks were in for a surprise when they found a creature’s nest never spotted so late into the year.
Park officials at Cape Hatteras National Seashore celebrated the discovery of a green sea turtle nest Dec. 3, according to the park’s Facebook post the next day. The nesting along North Carolina’s beaches is a “rare occurrence,” wildlife officials said.
Not only was the green sea turtle’s nest the latest to be found at Cape Hatteras, but park officials said it’s the latest one ever recorded in North Carolina. The previous late nesting record for the state was on Oct. 31, 2020.
Surrounded by zigzagging lines across the beach, park officials said the mother turtle must have “crawled erratically” before setting up camp to lay her eggs in the nesting hole. She partially covered them with sand, officials said, before she returned to the sea.
Green sea turtles can weigh between 250 and 450 pounds as adults, according to the park’s website. They are omnivorous creatures that munch on crustaceans, algae and sea grasses, the park said. Green sea turtles are also considered an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Nesting for female green sea turtles happens in intervals of two to three years, and a mother can lay eggs up to seven times during nesting season, according to the park. Nests can contain as many as 120 eggs , and their incubation ranges from 30 to 90 days, the park said.
Cape Hatteras is considered the “extreme northern limit for nesting,” the park said.
Several Facebook users had questions on the nest discovery, such as how the park biologists could tell it was a green sea turtle nest. Flipper marks in the sand — specifically parallel lines indicating a butterfly stroke — are the key to identifying the species of turtle that nested, the park said.
But the park didn’t have the best news for what the turtle eggs’ fates may be. When asked by several commenters on whether the eggs would survive the winter, park officials wrote that late nests typically do not make it through the cold season.
The park also said it did not have plans to incubate the eggs, as incubation is not a part of the park’s “management plan or NC state guidelines.” Instead, the eggs would be left in their nest and checked by staff, the park said.
Cape Hatteras is about 135 miles southeast of Norfolk, Virginia.