Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 177, Issue 7, pp 779–786

Respiratory properties of blood in flatback turtles (Natator depressus)

  • Jannie B. Sperling
  • Gordon C. Grigg
  • Lyn A. Beard
  • Colin J. Limpus
Original Paper


Oxygen equilibrium curves and other respiratory-related variables were determined on blood from the flatback turtle (Natator depressus) and, for comparison, on some samples from the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). The oxygen carrying capacity of the flatback turtle, 4.9–8.7 mmol l−1 (n = 49), is at the high end of the range in diving reptiles. Oxygen affinity (P50) was similar in both species at 5% CO2, ranging from 37 to 55 mmHg (43 mmHg ± 5.3 SD, n = 24, 25°C, pH 7.17) in flatbacks and 43–49 mmHg in loggerheads (46 mmHg ± 2.0 SD, n = 7, 25°C, pH 7.13), whereas at 2% CO2, flatbacks had a higher oxygen affinity. The curves differed in sigmoidicity, with Hill n coefficients of 2.8 and 1.9 in flatbacks and loggerheads, respectively. The Bohr effect was small in both the species, consistent with results from other sea turtles. Lactate levels were high, perhaps because the samples were taken from turtles coming ashore to lay eggs. Flatbacks are rarely found in waters deeper than 45 m. It is suggested that they have a respiratory physiology particularly suited to sustain prolonged shallow dives.


Sea turtles Diving physiology Bohr effect Oxygen equilibrium curve Oxygen carrying capacity 


  1. Bauer C, Jelkmann W (1977) CO2 governs the oxygen affinity of crocodile blood. Nature 269:825–827PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brill RW, Balazs GH, Holland KN, Chang RKC, Sullivan S, George JC (1995) Daily movements, habitat use, and submergence intervals of normal and tumor-bearing juvenile green turtles (Chelonia mydas L.) within a foraging area in the Hawaiian-Islands. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 185:203–218. doi:10.1016/0022-0981(94)00146-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Burggren W, Smith A, Evans B (1989) Arterial oxygen homeostasis during diving in the turtle Chelodina longicollis. Physiol Zool 62:668–686Google Scholar
  4. Butler PJ, Jones DR (1982) The comparative physiology of diving in vertebrates. In: Lowenstein OE (ed) Advances in comparative physiology and biochemsitry, vol. 8. Academic, New York, pp 179–364Google Scholar
  5. Eckert SA, Nellis DW, Eckert KL, Kooyman GL (1986) Diving patterns of two leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) during internesting intervals at Sandy Point, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Herpetologica 42:381–388Google Scholar
  6. Friedman JM, Simon SR, Scott TW (1985) Structure and function in sea turtle hemoglobins. Copeia 3:679–693CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Frische S, Bruno S, Fago A, Weber RE, Mozzarelli A (2001) Oxygen binding by single red blood cells from the red-eared turtle Trachemys scripta. J Appl Physiol 90:1679–1684PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Ganong WF (1983) Review of medical physiology. Lange Medical, Los AltosGoogle Scholar
  9. Giardina B, Galtieri A, Lania A, Ascenzi P, Desideri A, Cerroni L, Condo SG (1992) Reduced sensitivity of oxygen transport to allosteric effectors and temperature in loggerhead sea turtle hemoglobin: functional and spectroscopic study. Biochim Biophys Acta 1159:129–133PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Gordos MA, Franklin CE, Limpus CJ, Wilson G (2004) Blood-respiratory and acid-base changes during extended diving in the bimodally respiring freshwater turtle Rheodytes leukops. J Comp Physiol B 174:347–354PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grigg GC, Cairncross M (1980) Respiratory properties of the blood of Crocodylus porosus. Respir Physiol 31:367–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Grigg GC, Gruca M (1979) Possible adaptive significance of low red cell organic phosphates in crocodiles. J Exp Zool 209:161–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Grigg GC, Harlow P (1981) A fetal-maternal shift of blood oxygen affinity in an Australian viviparous lizard, Sphenomorphus quoyii (Reptilia, Scincidae). J Comp Physiol 142:495–499Google Scholar
  14. Hays GC, Adams CR, Broderick AC, Godley BJ, Lucas DJ, Metcalfe JD, Prior AA (2000) The diving behaviour of green turtles at Ascension Island. Anim Behav 59:577–586PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Houghton JDR, Broderick AC, Godley BJ, Metcalfe JD, Hays GC (2002) Diving behaviour during the inter-nesting interval for loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta nesting in Cyprus. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 227:63–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Isaacks RE, Harkness DR, Witham PR (1978) Relationship between the major phosphorylated metabolic intermediates and oxygen affinity of whole blood in the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) during development. Dev Biol 62:344–353PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lapennas GN, Lutz PL (1982) Oxygen affinity of sea turtle blood. Respir Physiol 48:59–74PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lapennas GN, Colacino JM, Bonaventura J (1981) Thin-layer methods for determination of oxygen binding curves of hemoglobin solutions and blood. Meth Enzymol 76:449–470PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Lenfant C, Johansen K, Peterson JA, Schmidt-Nielsen K (1970) Respiration in fresh water turtle, Chelys Fimbriata. Resp Phys 8:261–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Limpus C, Chatto R (2004) Marine turtles. In: National Oceans Office, Description of key species groups in the Northern Planning Area. National Oceans Office, Hobart, pp 113–136Google Scholar
  21. Limpus CJ, Parmenter CJ, Baker V, Fleay A (1983) The flatback turtle, Chelonia depressa, in Queensland: Post-nesting migration and feeding ground distrubution. Aust Wildl Res 10:557–561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lutcavage ME, Lutz PL (1991) Voluntary diving metabolism and ventilation in the loggerhead sea turtle. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 147:287–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lutcavage ME, Bushnell PG, Jones DR (1990) Oxygen transport in the leatherback sea turtle Dermochelys coriacea. Physiol Zool 63:1012–1024Google Scholar
  24. Lutcavage ME, Bushnell PG, Jones DR (1992) Oxygen stores and aerobic metabolism in the leatherback sea turtle. Can J Zool 70:348–351Google Scholar
  25. Lutz PL, Bentley TB (1985) Respiratory physiology of diving in the sea turtle. Copeia 3:671–679CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lutz PL, Musick JA (1997) The biology of sea turtles. CRC, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Maginnis LA, Song YK, Reeves RB (1981) Oxygen equilibria of ectotherm blood containing multiple hemoglobins. Resp Phys 42:329–343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Maginniss LA, Taper SS, Miller LS (1983) Effect of cronic cold and submergence on blood-oxygen transport in the turtle, Chrysemys picta. Resp Phys 53:15–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mendonca MT, Pritchard PCH (1986) Offshore movements of post-nesting Kemp’s ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys kempi). Herpetologica 42:373–381Google Scholar
  30. Owens DW, Ruiz GJ (1980) New methods of obtaining blood and cerebrospinal fluid from marine turtles. Herpetologica 36:17–20Google Scholar
  31. Poiner IR, Harris ANM (1996) Incidental capture, direct mortality and delayed mortality of sea turtles in Australia’s Northern Prawn Fishery. Mar Biol 125:813–825CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Poiner IR, Buckworth RC, Harris ANM (1990) Incidental capture and mortality of sea turtles in Australia’s Northern Prawn Fishery. Aust J Mar Freshwater Res 41:97–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Powers DA, Fyhn HJ, Fyhn UEH, Martin JP, Garlick RL, Wood SC (1979) A comparative study of the oxygen equilibria of blood from 40 genera of Amazonian fishes. Comp Biochem Physiol A 62:67–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sakamoto W, Naito Y, Uchida I, Kureha K (1990) Circadian-rhythm on diving motion of the loggerhead turtle Caretta-Caretta during inter-nesting and its fluctuations induced by the oceanic environmental events. Nippon Suisan Gakkai shi 56:263–272Google Scholar
  35. Schmidt-Nielsen K (1997) Animal physiology: adaptation and environment. 5th edn., Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  36. Seymour RS (1982) Physiological adaptations to aquatic life. In: Gans C, Pough FH (eds) Biology of the reptilia vol. 13. Academic, New York, pp 1–51Google Scholar
  37. Stabenau EK, Heming TA (1994) The in vitro respiratory and acid-base properties of blood and tissue from the Kemps ridley sea turtle, Lepidochelys kempi. Can J Zool 72:1403–1408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Walker TA (1991) Juvenile flatback turtles in proximity to coastal nesting islands in the Great Barrier Reef Province. J Herpetol 25:246–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Walker TA, Parmenter CJ (1990) Absence of a pelagic phase in the life cycle of the flatback turtle, Natator depressa (Garman). J Biogeol 17:275–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wallace BP, Williams CL, Paladino FV, Morreale SJ, Lindstrom RT, Spotila JR (2005) Bioenergetics and diving activity of inter-nesting leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea at Parque Nacional Marino las Baulas, Costa Rica. J Exp Biol 208:3873–3884PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wells RMG, Baldwin J (1994) Oxygen transport in marine green turtle (Chelonia mydas) hatchlings: blood viscosity and control of hemoglobin oxygen-binding. J Exp Biol 188:103–114PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Wood SC, Johansen K (1974) Respiratory adaptations to diving in the Nile monitor lizard, Varanus niloticus. J Comp Physiol 89:145–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jannie B. Sperling
    • 1
  • Gordon C. Grigg
    • 1
  • Lyn A. Beard
    • 1
  • Colin J. Limpus
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Integrative BiologyThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Queensland Parks and Wildlife ServiceBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations