The Leatherback Turtle looks quite different from other species of sea turtles because it does not have a hard carapace (shell) like Green, Hawksbill or Loggerhead Turtles; it is instead covered by a grey/black layer of flexible and leathery skin (from which it gets it’s name). Its paddle-shaped front flippers do not have claws and are also extremely long, much longer than those of other sea turtles.
These are the largest species of sea turtles found in the world growing from 6 to 9 feet long (2 to 3 meters) and weighing up to 2,000 pounds, but only living an average of 45 years. The large size of these turtles helps them survive in the open ocean, which is where they spend most of their lives, with the exception of females coming ashore to nest. In addition to having a larger layer of fat the Leatherback Turtle can regulate its body temperature and be found in colder waters than other species.
Check out this amazing video from Ocean Explorers of their encounter with a Leatherback on one of their dives on St. Maarten!!
Leatherbacks also differ from other sea turtles by lacking the strong crushing jaws needed to crack open hard-shelled prey. Instead they have sharp-edged jaws that they use to catch and bite soft-bodied prey. The throat of the Leatherback has many short, backward-pointing spines that stop jellyfish from escaping once they have been swallowed.
Female Leatherbacks travel thousands of miles back to the area they hatched from to lay their eggs. They can come ashore as many as 10 times in one season and lay up to 100 eggs with an average of 10 days between each visit. The eggs will incubate for about 60 days before hatching and only 6% will survive their first year.
- While they are very different from other species of sea turtles they haven’t changed in quite some time. Leatherback Turtles have existed in their current form since the time of the dinosaurs!
- This species can dive up to 4,000ft/1,200meters due to its flexible shell, the lack of a rigid breast bone, and its ability to absorb Nitrogen during its ascent. The often dive deep in search of jellyfish to eat.
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