Hawksbills and the shell trade
Editor’s note: This is part of a series highlighting the seven species of sea turtles during #SeaTurtleWeek. A different species will be highlighted each day. For more information on other Sea Turtle Week activities offered by the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, please go to our website or visit us on Facebook and Instagram.
Named for its narrow head and sharp, bird-like beak, the hawksbill feeds almost exclusively on sponges and is able to reach into the cracks and crevices of coral reefs in search of food.
This sea turtle also is recognized for the intricate patterns on its shell, or carapace. The hawksbill population has declined more than 80 percent in the last century, largely due to the shell trade, where their colorful carapace, or shell, is known as tortoise shell.
Since we’re talking about hawksbills, let’s learn more about a sea turtle’s shell:
• A sea turtle’s shell is called a carapace. The underside, or belly, is the plastron.
• Unlike what you may have seen in cartoons, turtles cannot come out of their shells. Their spine is fused to their carapace, which grows along with the turtle.
• Sea turtles cannot retract their heads or flippers into their shells. Sea turtles have adapted to life in the ocean with streamlined shells and strong shoulder muscles instead.
• The scutes on a sea turtle’s carapace are made of keratin, much like your fingernails. The scutes from hawksbills are what is used to make jewelry and other “tortoiseshell” items.
• The pattern and number of scutes on a sea turtle’s carapace may be used to identify its species.
• Leatherbacks are the only species of sea turtles that do not have a carapace covered with hard scutes. These sea turtles are named for the tough, leathery skin that covers a flexible matrix of bone.
Please take a moment to learn more about hawksbills and the shell trade in this video from TooRareToWear.org.