Sea Turtle Types
Kemp's Ridley Turtles
Each species of turtle has its own distinction. The Kemp's Ridley, named after Richard M. Kemp, the fisherman who first described these sea turtles in Florida, is the smallest of the sea turtles, measuring only 30 inches and weighing in at 80-100 pounds. It is also the most endangered species because of their specific location for laying their eggs. Note: An endangered species is classified as any species which is in danger of extinction throughout its range. Threatened turtles are species which are likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. The Kemp's Ridley turtle has a shell that is nearly circular and is sometimes wider than it is long. The top shell, or "carapace," is olive gray while the bottom shell, or "plastron," is yellowish-white. These turtles live for about 80 years and are mature and ready to lay eggs around the age of 12 years old.
Green turtles are the largest of the hard shelled turtles, only the Leatherback is larger. A Green turtle can grow up to 3 feet and weigh 350 pounds. These turtles reach maturity somewhere between 20 and 50 yrs of age and will return to the beach where they were born to lay their own eggs. A female green turtle can lay up to five clutches, or nests, of eggs in one summer. They are not named for the color of their shells, although they contain green, brown and black swirls of color on them. They are actually called Green turtles because the fat that they have is green. The fat is one reason the green turtles have been hunted to the endangered level, especially in Florida. Another oddity to affect 50% of Florida's turtles is an illness called Fibropapilloma (FP) Tumors. FP is characterized by tumorous growths, which can range from very small to extremely large and are found both internally and externally. Large tumors can interfere with feeding and essential behaviors and tumors on the eyes can cause permanent blindness. These tumors have been documented in turtles worldwide and have been found on some populations of Loggerheads as well. People also want them for their meat, their shell and their calipee, which is a part of them next to their shell and a main ingredient in turtle soup.
Olive Ridley Turtles
Olive Ridley turtles are also relatively small. They can grow to be between 22 and 31 inches and weigh the same as the Kemp's Ridley. The Olive Ridley gets its name from the grayish green coloring of its shell. It is felt that these are the most abundant of all the sea turtles with an estimated 800,000 nesting annually, but also the most exploited. The Olive Ridley nests in an odd sort of way. A large number of turtles gather offshore and come in together in a gathering called an arribada. It is not clear what exactly drives them in to these arribadas, whether it is offshore winds, lunar cycles or the release of pheromones by the females. Oddly, because so many turtles are nesting at one time, a female might dig up a nest of eggs another female just laid. Not all Olive Ridleys nest in arribada. Some females may nest during the mass nesting and then come ashore in a few weeks, alone, and lay another clutch of eggs. According to the Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG), there has been a 50% reduction in population size since the 1960s.
The Leatherback is the largest of all the sea turtles, measuring in at approximately 6.5 feet long. The largest Leatherback recorded weighed over 2,000 pounds. These turtles are highly migratory with migrations as far as 3,000 miles. They are covered with a leathery shell that has hexagonal bones imbedded in it and can be up to 1.5 inches thick. The top shell, the carapace, has seven ridges running from head to tail and tapers to a blunt point at the tail.
Their head and shell are predominantly black with pink speckles. They feed solely on jellyfish, so their mouths and throats have backward pointing spines to keep the gelatinous prey inside the turtle's mouth. Many die from becoming impacted after eating discarded plastic bags thinking they were jellyfish. This is one cause for the Leatherback to be placed on the endangered species list.
Loggerhead turtles are named for their large head, which contains a powerful jaw for crushing whelk and conch. They are pretty turtles with their top shell being a reddish-brown and the bottom shell being a pale yellow. Their shells also have a slight heart shape to them. They are the main turtle found on the North Carolina beaches. One of the main reasons for this is that they like relatively narrow, steeply sloped, coarse-grained sand, just like the sand found in North Carolina. A Loggerhead turtle can live up to 50 years, but again, there is no definite life span known since the female turtle is the only one that comes ashore and she may only lay eggs every 2 to 3 years. She becomes sexually mature around the age of 35 and will lay 3 to 5 clutches of eggs during her breeding summers. After the babies make it to the ocean, they go into a swimming frenzy where they will swim for several days straight to get out to the ocean currents where they can be carried away from shore. Although their numbers are dwindling, they are still considered threatened and not endangered.
Hawksbill turtles, named for their beak-like mouths, are easy to distinguish from the other turtles, as their bodies are slender and have a somewhat flattened profile. Hawksbill turtles are medium size, weighing in between 100 and 150 pounds. Their shells are the color of "tortoise shell," which is brown with streaks of orange, red and black. Because of the beautiful coloring found on their shells, they are hunted for their shell and are now on endangered species list. The Hawksbill is the only turtle whose shell is in layers overlapping each other like shingles on a roof. The back of the shell is serrated from the overlapping plates. Although they are found around the world, the largest gathering of nesting females is in Australia where between 6,000 and 8,000 nests have been found off the Great Barrier Reef. The age of maturity for laying these nests is not known, but researchers do know that a female will lay 3 to 5 clutches of eggs in one summer.