Scientists have long been aware that large animals such as marine turtles can serve as a living substrate for various organisms. These epibionts — such as most barnacles, algae, and even sucker fish (remora) — are typically harmless to the host, but others, such as the leeches, are ectoparasites, and therefore harmful.
See also “Turtle Hitchhikers,” by Brandon Schneider, Yale Scientific Magazine, Summer 2005, issue 78.4, article 383.
These invertebrate epibionts (at right) were collected primarily from Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) coming ashore to nest at Teopa Beach near Chamela, Mexico.
Dr. Theodora Pinou, Curatorial Affiliate in Vertebrate Zoology and Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological & Environmental Sciences at Western Connecticut State University, has directed a program of research studying nesting sea turtles and their epibionts as part of a grassroots Sea Turtle Conservation Program. This program is in partnership with the National University of Mexico and the University of Guadalajara, institutions which, in collaboration with naturalist Alejandro Peña and local private foundations, have been protecting a region of the Jalisco, Mexico coast for the last 15 years.
At the Yale Peabody Museum, Dr. Pinou has teamed with Senior Collections Manager Eric Lazo-Wasem in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology and Yale students evaluating the abundance and biotic diversity of the epibionts collected from nesting sea turtles. Ultimately, they hope to understand the impact of these organisms on sea turtle health.