Video Shows Baby Sea Turtle Running On Tiny Treadmill

12_23_FAU Sea Turtle
To determine how well the sea turtle hatchlings could perform after their walk on the treadmill, the hatchlings swam in a small tank using a specially designed swimsuit. Researchers measured oxygen consumption and lactate accumulation as well as their breathing rates and stroke rates -- that is how fast they were paddling their flippers. Credit: Florida Atlantic University

It's not unusual to see a dog running on a treadmill. In fact, there's even machines designed specifically for man's best friend. But, what about turtles? Chances are it's not often (or ever) that you've witnessed the endangered reptile going for a run—until now.

Thanks to scientists at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), you can now see what happens when you put a baby sea turtle on a tiny treadmill. While the video is adorable and entertaining, it was created for a much more important purpose: to test how delayed crawling can affect newborn sea turtles disoriented by artificial lights.

When a sea turtle is born, it must crawl from its nest to water within a couple of minutes; however, this doesn't always happen. In many cases, the tiny reptiles become disoriented by lights emitted from buildings and streets, which leads them to dangerous situations, like getting attacked by a predator or run over by a vehicle.

To better understand the turtles' endurance, Sarah Milton, an associate professor of biological sciences at FAU, and her graduate student Karen Pankaew, gathered 150 loggerhead and green sea turtle hatchlings from various nests in Palm Beach County—which were safely returned after their experiment.

"What prompted our study was the desire to understand what happens to these hatchlings after they spend hours crawling on the beach because they are disoriented," MIlton said in a statement. "We wanted to know if they would even be able to swim after crawling 500 meters or more, which could take them as long as seven hours to complete."

Milton and Pankaew stimulated lighting commonly found near urban beaches. They then tested various energy levels of the turtles and compared them to other turtles on the beach. Their findings—published in the Journal of Experimental Biology—yielded unforeseen results.

"We were completely surprised by the results of this study," Milton said. "We were expecting that the hatchlings would be really tired from the extended crawling and that they would not be able to swim well. It turned out not to be the case and that they are in fact crawling machines. They crawl and rest, crawl and rest and that's why they weren't too tired to swim."

While their discovery is a good thing, the authors warn that artificial lighting in urban settings can still pose a risk because the tiny animals spend up staying on the beach for longer than necessary, leaving them with a greater risk of getting injured or killed.