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Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

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Kemp's ridley sea turtle
Mark Newman/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

The Kemp's Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) is the world's smallest sea turtle, and an endangered species.

The Kemp's ridley is named after Richard M. Kemp, a fishermen, who first described them in Florida.

Description:

The Kemp's Ridley sea turtle weighs about 100 pounds, on average. This sea turtle has a rounded, grayish-greenish carapace that is about 2 feet long. Its plastron (bottom shell) is yellowish in color.

Habitat and Distribution:

Kemp's ridley sea turtles live from the Gulf of Mexico, along the coast of Florida and up the Atlantic coast through New England. According to NOAA, there are also records of Kemp's ridley sea turtles near the Azores, Morocco and in the Mediterranean Sea.

Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Testudines
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Genus: Lepidochelys
  • Species: kempii

Reproduction:

Kemp's ridley sea turtles have an interesting nesting behavior. Nesting occurs from May-July. Large numbers of Kemp's ridleys gather off the nesting site and then arrive upon the beach in huge groups called arribadas, which is Spanish for "arrival." Scientists are not sure how these arribadas are triggered, but speculate offshore winds, lunar (moon) cycles or a release of pheromones by females as the cause.

Ninety-five percent of the Kemp ridley population nests in Mexico. Other known nesting sites are in Texas and South Carolina.

Females lay 2-3 clutches of about 100 eggs. After a 2-month incubation period, the turtle hatchings emerge. The turtles are only about 1-1/2 inches long when they hatch. For about 2 years, the young turtle will drift in currents around the Gulf of Mexico and into the Atlantic Ocean, and may associate with floating mats of Sargassum, a brown algae, for food and shelter.

The young turtles are considered mature when they are 12 years old. It is not known how long Kemp's ridley turtles live.

Feeding:

Kemp's ridley sea turtles primarily eat crabs, but also eat fish, jellyfish and mollusks.

Conservation:

Until the 1960's, egg harvesting was a major threat to Kemp's ridley turtles. The population experienced a dramatic decline, as evidenced by a decrease in turtles appearing on nesting beaches in Mexico.

An amateur video from 1947 showed 42,000 Kemp's ridleys nesting on a beach in Rancho Nuevo in one day. By 1978, only 200 sea turtles were nesting there per day. The population appears to be increasing - in 2006, about 12,000 nests were documented in Mexico.

Although egg harvesting is banned, Kemp's ridleys are still threatened by capture in fishing gear, and they are listed as endangered.

Sources:

  • Harrison, Molly. 2005. The Kid's Times: Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Online). NOAA. Accessed May 6, 2010.
  • NOAA. Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Online). NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. Accessed May 6, 2010.
  • Waller, Geoffrey, ed. SeaLife: A Complete Guide to the Marine Environment. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington, D.C. 1996.
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