Sea Turtle Facts

Leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea

The leatherback is the largest of the sea turtle species.  This marine giant is also the largest reptile alive today! Leatherbacks are very different from the other sea turtle species.  Instead of a hard shell, they have a soft, black, leathery shell (carapace) with long ridges running from head to tail.  This body form allows leatherbacks to live in colder, deeper waters and undergo long migrations.

  • Status: Endangered
  • Average Size: 600 - 2000 pounds, up to 9 feet in length
  • Appearance: Black, leathery shell with ridges running from head to tail; two cusps on upper jaw; very long front flippers
  • Diet: Jellyfish
  • Nesting Season: March – June

Leatherback sea turtle in the sand

Baby leatherback sea turtle in someone's gloved palm

Loggerhead, Caretta caretta

Loggerheads are named for their large heads which house powerful jaw muscles for crushing hard-shelled prey. Florida has one of the two largest loggerhead nesting populations in the world!  They are also the most common sea turtle that nests on Florida’s beaches.  A major threat to loggerhead and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles is accidental bycatch in trawling nets and long-line fisheries.  The use and implementation of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and other bycatch reduction tools has drastically reduced the numbers of turtles being caught by fishermen.  Bycatch reduction tools also protects larger marine animals such as dolphins and sharks.

  • Status: Threatened
  • Average Size: 250 - 400 pounds, up to 3 feet in length
  • Appearance: Carapace is reddish-brown and shield-shaped with pale yellow accents; flippers and head have scales that are brown to pale yellow in color
  • Diet: Shellfish and crustaceans such as conch, lobster, crab, and urchins
  • Nesting Season: April – August

Sea turtle on beach

baby sea turtle in hand

Green, Chelonia mydas

Green sea turtles are the largest of the hard-shelled turtles and are named for the color of their body fat.  Now illegal in the United States and many other countries, green turtles were once hunted and harvested for their meat and to make turtle soup.  Populations in Florida were once functionally extinct from overharvesting, but we have seen an exponential increase in nesting green turtles on our beaches, raising them from Critically Endangered to Threatened status due to increased conservational efforts.

  • Status: Threatened
  • Average Size: 300 - 500 pounds, up to 4 feet in length
  • Appearance: Carapace is oval-shaped may have shades of black, gray, green, and brown; scales on head and flippers; head is proportionally small compared to body size.
  • Diet: Seagrasses and algae
  • Nesting Season: May – September

Sea turtle on sand with seaweed

baby sea turtle in someone's hand

Kemp's Ridley, Lepidochelys kempii

These turtles have very unique nesting habits.  They nest primarily on a beach in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico where they come up in large numbers to nest at the same time during the day, called an “arribada” (which means “arrival” in Spanish).  Kemp’s ridleys are also the rarest sea turtle.  All populations of Kemp’s ridleys are endangered, and numbers have drastically decreased in the past 60 years.  In 1947, an arribada of an estimated 42,000 Kemp’s Ridley turtles was filmed in Mexico.  Today, there may be as few as 3,000 nesting females.

  • Status: Critically Endangered
  • Average Size: 85-100 pounds, 2-2.5 feet in length
  • Appearance: Carapace is grayish in color and characteristically flat and round as the width of their carapace is longer than its length; scales on head and flippers.  They’re top jaw ends in a sharp point to help them eat fish, crabs, shrimp, and other crustaceans.  
  • Diet:  Crustaceans
  • Nesting Season: April – July

Kemps Ridley sea turtle on sand

Kemps Ridley baby sea turtle in hand

Hawksbill, Eretmochelys imbricata

Hawksbill sea turtles are known for their magnificent shells and interesting food preferences.  Unfortunately, their beauty has taken the hawksbill to the brink of extinction.  Hawksbill shells are used to make tortoise shell jewelry, barrettes, combs, and other items.  Their eggs are also harvested for consumption.  Harvesting turtle eggs and the trade and import of tortoise shell items is illegal in the United States, but other countries still allow the take of hawksbill turtles.

  • Status: Endangered
  • Average Size: 100-150 pounds, 2-3 feet in length
  • Appearance: Carapace is a dark golden brown with streaks of black, brown, yellow, and amber throughout.  The rear edge of the carapace is serrated, and the "plates" (scutes) overlap.  They have a bird-like beak that is used to pick out sponges from the crevices of coral reef.
  • Diet:  Sponges
  • Nesting Season: April – November

Hawksbill sea turtle on sand going towards ocean

baby hawksbill sea turtle in hand