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Sea Turtles Vocabulary Passage

Read the passage. Think about the meanings of the highlighted words. 

There is a debate about the name “sea turtles” Turtles tortoises and terrapins all belong to the same order. Tortoises live on land, terrapins live in fresh water and turtles live in salt water. So, turtles by definition should be sea animals! However some of the larger freshwater varieties are also called turtles, so we will stick with the name Sea Turtle, to save confusion.

They belong to the invertebrates and are reptiles. There are seven known species of sea, or marine, turtle. They vary in size, the largest being the Leatherback Turtle. We are going to look at the Green turtle. All of the sea turtles have similar adaptations and similar problems.

Structural Adaptations:

The four limbs are flat and can be rotated, so as to enable them to swim and move on land.

They have a heavy shell protecting most of their body.

The head can be withdrawn into the shell.

Behavioral Adaptations:

They lay their eggs in only a few places, always the same beaches.

They lay their eggs above the high water mark.

They swim fairly close to the surface of the water.

The structural adaptations really are not a drawback, or problem. The weight of the shell means that they are clumsy and slow on land, and so when the females go to lay eggs they can be easily caught. Other than that, the structural adaptations tend to protect them.

The problem lies with the behavioral adaptations. The fact that they always return to the same place to lay their eggs makes them vulnerable to both human and other predators. People and other animals such as birds and fish, know when the laying season is and where the eggs will be laid. The female turtles struggle up the beach to a place above the high water mark. There they dig a shallow pit with their fore flippers, and lie in it. The hind flippers are then used to dig a deeper pit, into which the eggs are dropped. The number of eggs varies but the usual amount is around 100.

The eggs are the covered over with sand and the female returns to the sea. After sometime (from 48-80 days the eggs hatch. All the baby turtles (known as hatchlings) get together and collectively make their way to the top of the pit. They then wait for nightfall. After dark, they push out the top of the nest and make a dash for the sea.

The problems:

Because so many females lay their eggs in the same area, one will often disturb the nest of another, while digging, and unintentionally destroy the eggs.

Humans dig up the eggs immediately after they have been laid. They sell them to restaurants. They are considered a great delicacy in some places.

Crabs, Monitor lizards and stray dogs will also dig up the nests.

Night birds. Crabs, lizards and dogs pick off the hatchlings as they make their way back to the sea. The number lost depends to a great extent on luck. If the hatch on a night with a low tide they have a long way to go to get to the water line. If it is high tide, more will make it before being eaten.

If the hatchlings don’t reach the water by sunrise other birds will eat them.

Predatory fish (mostly shark) lie in wait just offshore at the breeding grounds. They pick off the hatchlings as they make their way out to sea.

It is estimated that the average female Green Turtle lays about 1,800 eggs in her lifetime. Only about 400 of these actually develop and hatch. Of those about 250 make it to the sea, and of those only about 30 will survive their first week at sea.

Thirty offspring, per adult female seems like a good number, but the story doesn’t end there. Adult turtles are also attacked and eaten by sharks, and even whales. They also suffer from disease and many are killed by passing ships and speedboats. They are also hunted as food. The number of hatchlings, per adult female who actually grow to complete a full life cycle is probably about three. Again, that isn’t bad; it is just about enough for Green turtles to survive as a species.

However, there is a growing demand for turtle meat and skin. This means that many adult females are being killed on the beaches. If the trend continues, the Green turtles could well die out altogether becoming extinct. Most places now have laws to protect the nesting beaches.

Neat Turtle Facts:

Turtle hatchlings are carnivorous, whereas adult turtle are mostly vegetarian.

No one knows where turtles go during their fist year of life.

Females will swim thousands of miles from feeding grounds to nesting beaches and back again.

The four main nesting beaches of ALL Green turtles are found on the Costa Rican Coast, the Island of Ascension, the Seychelles and the Great Barrier Reef.

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