When Gordon Bock starts wondering whether it really was insane to become a father at 45, and when he starts to do the math about how old he will be when his little girl graduates from college, or even high school, or, heck, preschool, he will stop and think about the Loggerhead turtle.
The three foot wide, 250 pound species might just have become the unlikely mascot of older parents everywhere, after the journal Functional Ecology released data showing that these majestically adorable sea creatures do not start to reproduce until they are 45 years old. After hearing the somehow vindicating news on the radio Tuesday morning, Bock posted on his Facebook page:
Just like -- as I learned today from NPR -- the loggerhead turtle, I did not become a Dad until the age of 45. It is the best "job" that I have ever had.
True, he says, the study, based on decades of data from researchers at the University of Swansea in Wales, only tracks females, but, he figures the late start holds for males, too, "unless there is some sort of Ashton Kutcher-Demi Moore thing happening in the turtle world."
The Loggerheads might also become role models for the generation coming up behind Bock, the one that we so often accuse of not being in any rush to grow up. The reason these particular turtles don't become parents for 45 years is because that's how long it takes them to get through puberty and become adults. Until then, I suppose, they do the turtle equivalent of moving back home, having their mother do their laundry, and not making any decision, large or small, without texting about it with their parents, first.
We can't know if young turtles are grateful that they have 45 years to find themselves before settling down with kids, or if older turtles fret that they might never be grandparents. But those who wrote this study tell us that while some might take it as reassuring that nature approves of older parenting in at least one species, the Loggerheads pay a price for the delay. As Victoria Gill of the BBC reported:
Prof Graeme Hays from the University of Swansea, one of the authors of the study, explained how reaching maturity so slowly meant that the turtle population was "less resilient" than previously thought.
"The longer an animal takes to reach maturity, the more vulnerable the population is to [man-made] causes of mortality," said Prof Hays.
This, he explained, was because there was a much higher chance of an individual animal being killed - for example, by being deliberately or accidentally caught in a fishing net - before it had been able to "replace itself" by breeding.
In other animal news, there's a new baby elephant at the Whipsnade Zoo in Britain, the smallest ever born there -- so tiny he had to learn to stand on his tiptoes to nurse. Yes, apparently elephants have toes. The photos are adorable.
His birth was quite the event, because he did not make his entrance until the 700th day of his mama's pregnancy -- which is 84 days longer than average. Yes, elephants are pregnant for 22 months.
So even if you don't have the biological clock of a Loggerhead turtle, it could be worse. You could have the reproductive schedule of an elephant.
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