Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are amongst the oldest creatures on earth. Each summer female sea turtles return to their natal beach from many miles away, dragging themselves on to shore they use their back flippers to dig a nest where she deposits nearly 100 soft leathery eggs the size of ping pong balls. After incubating for about two months, the eggs begin to hatch, and the 2 inch long hatchlings emerge from the sand at night. Under natural conditions, the hatchlings use the bright sky to find the ocean. Sea turtles are found in many different oceans around the world except the arctic and can range in size from 3 feet to 9 feet long. They are threatened by beach development, fisheries, and over harvesting of eggs.

Loggerhead Turtle

loggerhead turtle(Caretta caretta) The Loggerhead is the most common sea turtle species in the southeastern United States, with the east coast of Florida being a very active breeding area. Loggerheads are easily identified by their log-shaped heads, which often measure around 10 inches. Their powerful jaw muscles aid them in crushing their food. Length: 38 - 45 inches, Weight: 250 - 400 lbs, Distribution: Subtropical areas, all oceans, Diet: Mollusks and crabs. ESA Status: Threatened.

Green Turtle

green turtle(Chelonia mydas) Green turtles are not actually green. Their name refers to the color of their body fat. Young turtles eat a wide variety of foods, but the diet changes as they reach adulthood. As adults, green sea turtles are exclusively herbivores, or plant eaters. They eat algae and sea grass which turns their body fat green. Their heads are smaller than other sea turtle species, and the ends of their lower jaws are serrated. They have become endangered in Florida through centuries of being hunted for their meat and eggs. Length: 25 - 43 inches, Weight: 250 - 400 lbs, Distribution: Tropical and subtropical, Diet: Sea grasses and algae. ESA Status: Breeding populations in Florida, Threatened.

Leatherback Turtle

leatherback turtle(Dermochelys coriacea) Leatherback turtles are the largest of all marine reptiles and are the only sea turtles without hard shells. Their black and white shells lack scales and are covered instead with a rubbery skin, distinguished by seven longitudinal keels or ridges. The leatherback unlike other species, can regulate its body temperature, enabling it to dive deeper and to migrate thousands of miles. Length: 60 - 100 inches, Weight: 710 -1300 lbs, Distribution: Nest in tropics, can wander to sub-Artic waters, Diet: Jellyfish. ESA Status: Endangered.

Kemp’s Ridley

Kemp's Ridley turtle(Lepidochelys kempii) The most endangered of all the sea turtles. The species was named after Richard Kemp, who helped discover them. These turtles come ashore in daylight and nest in groups. The are among the smallest sea turtles, with broadly oval-shaped shells, usually olive-gray in color. Length: 23 - 26 inches, Weight: Up to 100 lbs, Distribution: Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic, Diet: Crabs and mollusks. ESA Status: Endangered.


Hawksbill(Eretmochelys imbricata) Hawksbill turtles are named for their distinct hawk-like beaks. The thick overlapping scales of their shells were once sought after for jewelry, tortoiseshell combs, and other ornaments. Sadly, this demand has brought the species very near to extinction. Length: 28 - 36 inches, Weight: 80 - 140 lbs, Diet: Invertebrates, vegetation and sponges. ESA Status: Endangered.

Gopher Tortoise. Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons. Author: Craig ONeal