Leatherback turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, which have an irregular pink area on the crown of the head known as the pineal or ‘pink spot’, forage upon jellyfish in cool temperate waters along the western and eastern margins of the North Atlantic during the summer. Our study showed that the skeletal structures underlying the pink spot in juvenile and adult turtles are compatible with the idea of a pineal dosimeter function that would support recognition of environmental light stimuli. We interrogated an extensive turtle sightings database to elucidate the phenology of leatherback foraging during summer months around Great Britain and Ireland and compared the sightings with historical data for sea surface temperatures and day lengths to assess whether sea surface temperature or light periodicity/levels were likely abiotic triggers prompting foraging turtles to turn south and leave their feeding grounds at the end of the summer. We found that sea temperature was too variable and slow changing in the study area to be useful as a trigger and suggest that shortening of day lengths as the late summer equilux is approached provides a credible phenological cue, acting via the pineal, for leatherbacks to leave their foraging areas whether they are feeding close to Nova Scotia or Great Britain and Ireland.
Additional Publication Details
Pink spot, white spot: the pineal skylight of the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea Vandelli 1761) skull and its possible role in the phenology of feeding migrations
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology