Turtle on a rock

Some turtles sunbathe at night!

Credit: Pinson

Lots of animals love to sunbathe for extra warmth. Scientists from La Trobe University have now discovered that freshwater turtles like “moon-bathing” too.

Go for a walk in the bush on a warm, sunny day and you might spot a lizard lying on top of a rock, sunning. And it’s not just lizards – lots of animals sun themselves, including reptiles, birds and insects. Experts reckon the main reason for sunning is to keep nice and warm.

But scientists were intrigued by reports of turtles lying outside on logs at night. That’s surprising because in the cool night, without sunlight, sunning doesn’t really warm you up. To investigate, a group of researchers set up camera traps around the world to record turtle behaviour.

Taking photos every 2 minutes throughout day and night, it didn’t take long for the scientists to spot moon-bathing turtles. Of the 29 species they were watching, 12 came out of the water to rest on logs and riverbanks. Sometimes they even joined other animals for a night out.

“We think it’s related to temperature,” says Dr. McKnight from the research team. “The water is staying so warm at night that it’s warmer than the turtles like to be. They can cool down by coming out of the water.”

The reasons behind moon-bathing are not quite the same for all turtles. Turtles in Townsville tended to come out in summer, while others in Africa preferred to come out in winter. Some turtles might not care about the temperature, and moon-bathe to avoid predators instead.

Whatever the reasons for the moon-bathing might be, Dr. McKnight’s team is excited to find out more about the secrets behind these turtle-y mysterious behaviours.

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