Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Turning Turtle

The other day, a wildlife photographer was telling me about how the sex of certain species of sea turtles is determined by the temperature of the water where the eggs incubate. ‘Hot gals, cool guys’ is how she described it. Normally, I would have dismissed it as urban legend, but she hadn’t just heard about it. She, and a dozen others, had actually randomly divided turtle eggs into two groups, which had then been kept at different temperatures- not even one egg had hatched differently from expected.
It flew in the face of all the genetics I had been taught in school, and which I learnt subsequently. The sex of any living organism is determined by the sex chromosomes, which are decided at the time fertilization. How then could the conditions under which the embroy fertilizes have any implications on the sex of the turtle?

I tried using the Internet to find out why it happened, but all I found were articles corraborating the phenomenon. Finally, I came up with a theoryof my own. Maybe male turtles have three sex chromosomes instead of two - XXY. All turtles start off male, but heat kills off the weaker Y chromosome, so female turtles with two X chromosomes hatch from eggs incubated at higher temperatures. Scientifically, it is as plausible an explanation as any other, and I am sticking to it till someone comes up with something more convincing.

Which brings me to the point of the entire post. Anyone who frequents my blog knows how much I love drabbles and drabbling. Normally, my drabbles almost write themselves. But while working on the story for this Sunday, something strange happened. My character refused to behave herself - she was determined to drag the story to something much longer than 100 words, and did. Since I have been attempting to do something longer for a long time, I am not complaining.

But I wonder if it is normal? When I created my character, she was supposed to be a drabble, but she seems to have taken over and done just what she wants. Does that happen, and when it does happen, how do you cope? Is there some way you can continue to exercise control the way nature does with turtles?


dipali said...

You are just the medium, I guess!

Anonymous said...

Most writers will tell you that their characters take on a life of their own. Don't try to control it - just embrace it! ;-)

Tundiel said...

I thought I'd actually post today while I was still signed in (I read your blogs frequently, but as you know I cannot type from my laptop).

I think it's fabulous that your drabble character has takem on a life of her own! I've always loved reading your stories, and we've been deprived of new stuff for far longer than we should have :) Go with it, I say, and enjoy it!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Enjoy! That's great when a character does that.

I've had limelight stealing characters, and currently have a character that is bent on being an animal rights activist (which I had nothing to do with.) Funny how they get carried away sometimes.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Watery Tart said...

Natasha--I think maybe you want to look for your turtle answers to the things that people do to help babies be one sex or the other... XX sperm is hardier and lives longer (so delay in sex after ovulation gets girls) and the XY are stronger swimmers (woman on top, more boys)... so maybe the turtle sperm (are we really talking about turtle sperm?) have sensitivities like that, but I am willing to bet no matter what, it is the females that are hardier.

As for the characters--oh yes... there's always one that will take over (Jessie was only meant to be a bit player)

Elspeth Antonelli said...

My motto when writing is "Let the Beast Speak". If this character has a lot to say then find out what's she saying. You're in a lucky place, capitalize on it!


Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ dipali, Fiona, Elizabeth, Elspeth - I hear you loud and clear. Why did I suspect that would be what everyone felt?

@ Tara - I do hope something concrete comes of it, though.

@ Tami - I thought of that, but the problem is that in turtle eggs, the fertilization has already taken place by incubation time. Incidentally, as per time of conception, both mine should have been girls!
And I love Jess!!!!


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