Seven species of sea turtles roam the seas
By Ashley Anderson
Sea turtle nesting season is here, and what better way to kick it off than to take a quick look at what makes these animals so fascinating.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle,
One of the most common sea turtles we see in Florida is the loggerhead, which has a scientific name of Carreta carreta. Loggerheads can weigh as much as 350 pounds with an average weight of 275 pounds. While these animals swim all over our blue planet, the largest nesting site in the world for this species is on the eastern coast of the United State, mainly in Florida. Like all of us here at the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, loggerheads love the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. These turtles are known for their large heads that hold a powerful jaw that allows them to feed on hard-shelled animals like a conch. In addition to its large head, one may identify a loggerhead by its heart-shaped shell with a reddish-brown coloring.
Green Sea Turtle,
Now let’s take a swim on over to our green sea turtles. Many of us may recognize green turtles from Crush, the sea turtle character in Finding Nemo. Unfortunately, Crush was pushing it at the 150-year mark, but research shows he likely could have been 100 years old.
Green turtles are a highly migratory species, but they specifically enjoy warmer subtropical waters. While they are popular in locations such as Hawaii and Puerto Rico, we are also fortunate to have them visit our Florida beaches. Green turtles can be seen grazing the seafloor for seagrass and algae to fuel their, on average, 300-pound adult bodies.
Leatherback Sea Turtle,
The leatherback sea turtle is a fascinating turtle species simply because little is known about their lives. Most of what is known comes from studying their nesting habits.
Unlike other sea turtles, a leatherback does not have a shell covered with hard scutes. Instead, a tough, leathery skin covers a flexible matrix of bone with seven ridges running lengthwise down its back. They are typically black in coloration with white, pink, and blue splotches. Leatherbacks are nearly impossible to miss because of their immense size. Weighing in at between 500 and 1,500 pounds and measuring on average 6 feet in length, these reptiles are the largest of our seven sea turtle species. Although these animals are huge, jellyfish are their primary food source.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle,
The hawksbill sea turtle is one of the smaller sea turtles and also one of the most tropical sea turtles. They can be recognized by the spectacular colors of their oval-shaped shell that range from brown and black to orange and red. However, an easier way to identify a hawksbill may be its pointed beak, which is similar to a bird. The hawksbill will only get as large as 2.5 feet long and weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. Hawksbill sea turtles seem to be picky eaters and eat mainly sponges. While they are picky, they love their sponges so much that they will eat more than 1,000 pounds of sponges in a year.
We now find the smallest and rarest marine sea turtle, the Kemp’s ridley, as we make our way through the sea turtle family. To identify a Kemp’s ridley, it is important to note their distinct gray-colored, circular shell. One may also notice a beaked face similar to the hawksbill. Because of their small size, they will only be about 85 to 100 pounds with a shell length of 2 feet to 2.5 feet. Kemp’s are not the most common Florida residents, and they can be found mainly in the Gulf of Mexico’s waters. These animals are solitary creatures and take long trips for migration. These turtles are also daytime nesters. If you see one laying its eggs, take in the rare sight.
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle,
The olive ridley is an abundant species of sea turtle. An olive can be identified by the yellow-gray coloring of its heart-shaped shell. This species is also small like the Kemp’s. They only grow to be 2.5 pounds and weigh up to 110 pounds. These animals have a diverse diet, and they typically will munch on everything from plants, like algae, to mollusks and shrimp. It is unlikely an olive ridley will visit Florida’s beaches; it is common to see them roam about the tropical regions of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans.
Flatback Sea Turtle,
Finally, we get to discover the flatback sea turtle. Its name gives its appearance away as it can be identified by its flat body. It is one of the smaller turtle species as it only grows to be 3.5 feet while weighing in at just under 200 pounds. One could find a flatback munching on jellyfish, mollusks, and seaweed in coral reef habitats, bays, and coastal waterways. Unfortunately, we won’t see a flatback in Florida since it’s found mainly in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
While these animals have their own specific characteristics that make them special, they have one common thread — every one of these seven animals is endangered. Yet sea turtles are resilient and, with our help, will be thriving once again.