I’m the most widespread sea turtle species in the world, and the most abundant of all sea turtle species in the U.S. You can recognize me by my reddish-brown carapace (upper shell) and yellow underbelly and my strong jaws that I use to crunch through the hard shells of crustaceans and mollusks. My mouth is actually where I get my name! Some people think my massive head is as big and sturdy as a log.
We are a long-lived species and don’t reach sexual maturity until we’re 35 years old. When we’re old enough, we will mate in coastal regions about every two or three years, and then make a massive migration to lay our eggs. We make our way back to the exact beach where we were born, also known as our “natal” beach. We climb onto the beach at night to lay four clutches of over 100 eggs each, and then head back to the ocean. Our eggs are vulnerable to predators and environmental factors. For example, the sex of our offspring is actually dependent on temperature! Warmer conditions will result in mostly female hatchlings, and cooler conditions will lead to more males.
Did You Know?
I’m one of seven sea turtle species, including the leatherback, olive ridley, hawksbill, flatback, green and Kemp’s ridley.
I’m a world traveler, and make long migrations during breeding season to return to the beach where I hatched as a baby to lay my own eggs. Unfortunately, I encounter a lot of trash and other dangers on my journey. I can get caught by fishermen, particularly shrimp trawlers, as bycatch or get entangled in abandoned fishing gear. This makes it hard or even impossible for me to swim and can be fatal. Plastics are a huge problem too, especially for young turtles. For baby sea turtles, just half a gram—one one-thousandth of a pound—of ingested plastic can kill them. We can easily confuse plastic bags for one of our favorite foods, jellyfish. So for our best chance at survival, humans need to work to keep plastics from our beaches and from entering the ocean.