Adorable Sea Turtles Are Using Fashion in the Name of Science

Who knew science could be so cute?

It’s hard out there for marine biologists to do their jobs with so many current events getting in the way. (Get it? We’re here all weekend…) That’s why University of Queensland Ph.D. student Owen Coffee decided to take matters into his own hands.

According to UQ News, Coffee developed the idea for some critter “swimsuits” while researching the diet of endangered sea turtles in Australia, like the loggerhead and green turtles. In efforts to find new places for these turtles to feed, researchers have been trying to nail down just what the sea creatures are eating. And the best way to do that is by collecting the turtles’ digested dinners.

However, getting a decent sample isn’t as easy as trolling along with a net behind a turtle after mealtime. It turns out that isolating turtles into research tanks doesn’t mean you’re likely to get a viable collection of poo.

“It was challenging to collect the entire faecal sample once it dispersed into the water,” Coffee told UQ News.

But those intrepid researchers got creative, first trying out funnels over the turtles’ backsides as a sort of catch-all for the feces. Unfortunately for Coffee, those didn’t work — fortunately for everyone else, the idea for the turtle swimsuit was born soon after.

Coffee gathered up a bunch of second-hand rash guards, got to stitching, and before these little shelled beings knew what was up, they’d gotten a stylish and scientifically sound makeover. Thanks to these suits, researchers were able to extract fully intact samples from the turtles to better analyze just what they’re chowing down on.

“The suits were easy to put on, comfortable for the sea turtles to wear, looked great, and Owen was able to collect the entire faecal sample,” says Dr. Kathy Townsend, the education coordinator at Coffee’s research station.

After the turtles had relieved themselves, the turtles were released back into the wild sans suit.

This got us thinking, what other animal enigmas could be solved by a few fashionably stitched items? After all, if scientists can don panda suits and whooping crane outfits in the name of science, there are surely some animals equipped to throw on something both nice and practical.

One of our favorite examples? This study of peahens reacting to peacocks’ plumage. With some strategically placed bird backpacks, evolutionary biologist Jessica Yorzinski was able to find out that the female birds didn’t really react to their suitors’ vibrant feather displays. Instead, the peahens focused on the bottom of the males’ fan of feathers, particularly below the neck.

Turns out that even for our fine feathered friends, beauty isn’t everything. But there’s no denying those loggerheads look pretty darn fantastic in those swimsuits, right?

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