turtle time

A Manicurist Was Key in a Baby Turtle Breakthrough

Like teens, the lost years of a baby sea turtle have baffled scientists for years. What happens to adorable baby turtles once they painstakingly break free of their shells and begin the slow, slow “sprint” to the shelter of the sea? National Geographic reports that many are either eaten by predators or are too weak to survive the journey. But the survivors “dive beneath the waves … and disappear,” beginning what scientists call “the lost years.” (Perhaps, like many a troubled marine creature before them, they fall in with the wrong crowd and gamble it all on love?)

In an effort to track these “lost years,” scientists tried to keep tabs on the turtles via satellite solar-panel tags that wouldn’t cause damage. But turtles’ backs are slippery, and the tags failed to adhere properly. The glued-on tags kept slipping off the turtles because of their quick growth. Then, one scientist remembered that turtle backs are made of keratin, the same material found in human nails. Researcher Katherine Mansfield explains:

We contacted my collaborator’s manicurist and she suggested using an acrylic base coat to seal the shell from peeling.” Her idea worked. The tags finally stuck.

The rules of good nail care are simple and finite; any good nail technician would have known. So, baby turtles, run free and at your own pace. But know that you are just one acrylic-painted tag away from home.

Manicurist Key in a Baby Turtle Breakthrough