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7 Species of Sea Turtles

Learn About the 7 Recognized Species of Sea Turtles

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Sea turtles are classified in the Class Reptilia, Subclass Anapsida and Order Testudines. There are seven recognized species of sea turtles, six of which (the hawksbill, green, flatback, loggerhead, Kemp's ridley and olive ridley turtles) are in the Family Cheloniidae, with only one (the leatherback) in the Family Dermochelyidae. All seven species of sea turtles are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

1. Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)

Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), Daniel Evans / Caribbean Conservation Corporation
Daniel Evans / Caribbean Conservation Corporation - www.cccturtle.org

The leatherback is the largest sea turtle and can reach lengths over 6 feet and weights over 2,000 pounds. These animals are deep divers, and have the ability to dive to over 3,000 feet. Leatherback turtles nest on tropical beaches, but can migrate as far north as Canada during the rest of the year. This turtle’s shell consists of a single piece with 5 ridges, and is distinctive from other turtles who have plated shells.

2. Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) Hatchling, Caribbean Conservation Corporation / www.cccturtle.org
Caribbean Conservation Corporation / www.cccturtle.org

The green turtle is large, with a carapace up to 3 feet long. Green turtles weigh up to 350 pounds and their carapace can be many colors, including shades of black, gray, green, brown or yellow. Adult green turtles are the only herbivorous sea turtles. When young, they are carnivorous, but as adults they eat seaweeds and seagrass.  They are found in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world. 

3. Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta), Juan Cuetos/Oceana-www.oceana.org
Juan Cuetos/Oceana - www.oceana.org

Loggerheads are a reddish-brown turtle that have a very large head. They are the most common turtle that nests in Florida. Loggerhead turtles can be 3.5 feet long and weigh up to 400 pounds. They feed on crabs, mollusks and jellyfish.

4. Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate)

Hawksbill Sea Turtle / Silke Baron, Flickr
Courtesy Silke Baron, Flickr

The hawksbill turtle grows to lengths of 3.5 feet long and weights of up to 180 pounds. Hawksbill turtles were named for the shape of their beak, which looks similar to the beak of a raptor. These turtles have a beautiful tortoiseshell pattern on their carapace, and were hunted nearly to extinction for their shells. Hawksbill turtles live in tropical waters and feed on sponges.

5. Kemp's Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii)

At lengths up to 30 inches and weights of 80-100 pounds, the Kemp’s ridley is the smallest sea turtle. They are coastal turtles and found in temperate to sub-tropical waters in the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. They prefer to eat benthic organisms such as crabs.

6. Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea)

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Arribada / Sebastian Troëng, Sea Turtle Conservancy/www.conserveturtles.org
Sebastian Troëng / Sea Turtle Conservancy / www.conserveturtles.org

Olive ridley turtles are named for - you guessed it - their olive-colored shell. Like the Kemp’s Ridley, they are small, and weigh less than 100 pounds. They are found in tropical regions around the world. They eat mostly invertebrates such as crabs, shrimp, rock lobsters, jellyfish, and tunicates, although some eat primarily algae.  When nesting, females come to shore in colonies of up to a thousand turtles and have mass nesting aggregations (arribadas) on the coasts of Central America and East India.

7. Flatback (Natator depressus)

Flatback turtles are named for their flattened carapace, which is olive-gray in color. The flatback turtle is only found in Australia and lives in coastal waters. They eat squid, sea cucumbers, soft corals and mollusks.

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