American Oceans

What Is The Largest Sea Turtle?

The Leatherback is the largest living sea turtle. It’s so named because of its unique shell that is composed of a layer of thin, rubbery, tough skin that is strengthened by thousands of tiny bone plates that give it a ‘leathery’ look.

Leatherback turtle crawling on shore

They are the only turtles without a hard shell. 

They weigh between 550 and 2,000lbs and can grow up to six feet. Their head has a deeply notched upper jaw with 2 cusps. It has a large carapace that is elongated and flexible with 7 distinct ridges.

Only hatchlings have scales on their carapace. In adults, their carapace is dark grey or black with white or pale spots.

They also have a whitish to black plastron that is marked by 5 ridges. Meanwhile, hatchlings have white blotches on their carapace.

are leatherback turtles endangered?

You can spot Leatherback sea turtles as far north as Canada and the northern Pacific Ocean.

However, they do prefer the tropics, tending to nest there. In the U.S. you can find the Leatherback nesting in southeast Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands

The Leatherback has been listed as endangered worldwide by the U.S. federal government.

The biggest threats to the Leatherback include getting caught in commercial fishing nets, marine pollution, and the harvesting of eggs.

What is the smallest sea turtle in the world?

The smallest sea turtle is actually the rarest turtle – the Kemp’s Ridley! 

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle released back to ocean

They measure less than 30 inches long and weigh less than 10 pounds. Unlike other sea turtles, Kemp’s Ridleys usually lay their eggs during the day.

In the 1940s, an arribada would usually draw in around 40,000 females.

By the 1980s, due to uncontrolled collection of eggs and meat, the Mexican government enforced stricter provisions on egging (harvesting eggs for human consumption), and the U.S. has a nesting beach in Texas where more than 100 females have laid eggs yearly for the past decade or so.

The hatchlings are raised by biologists in captivity until they are able to survive in the wild, and then they are returned to the beach where they hatched. 

Who is bigger? Turtle or Tortoise?

Most people use the term ‘turtle’ to refer to any reptile that has a shell, but while all tortoises are turtles, not all turtles are tortoises.

leatherback sea turtle in the sand

It can get a little confusing, but there are several key differences between these two creatures. Most notably, tortoises live mainly on land, and turtles are built for a life in the sea. 

Tortoises have evolved to live in their land-based habitats. They are larger, heavier, and bulkier than turtles. Their round, stubby feet help them to traverse rocky terrain.

These are often described as ‘club-like’ and may remind you of an elephant’s feet! Tortoises are carrying hefty shells, and their large hind legs not only help them to move around, but to carry their shells.

Tortoises also have sharp claws to help them to dig burrows. These burrows give them shelter not just from hot, dry environments but predators too.

leatherback turtle in the water

Tortoise shells are also larger and are more domed, and they also play a part in protecting tortoises from the predators they encounter on land. 

So while tortoises have more round, domed shells, turtles have thinner shells that are more suited to their lives in the water.

They are streamlined to help the turtle swim, and turtles have a more streamlined body shape compared to the tortoises, most notably in their smaller, flatter, lighter shells. 

Turtles also have flipper-like legs, or webbed feet to help them glide through the water with ease. 

Turtles are omnivores, as they eat both animal and plant life depending on the species (the Loggerhead turtle, for example, is carnivorous). Turtles enjoy algae, insects, jellyfishes, sea sponges, and small fish.

man next to large leatherback turtle

Meanwhile, tortoises enjoy vegetation that is low to the ground, such as cacti, flowers, fruits, grasses, and shrubs. They are herbivores mostly, but some species of tortoises have been known to eat insects and worms. 

Turtles usually mate in the water or on the shore. Again, this all depends on the species of turtle.

While the large Leatherbacks can live up to 100 years, the average lifespan of a turtle is 20 to 40 years, and sea turtles can live to around 60 or 70 years.

It’s interesting to note that tortoises have a far longer lifespan than turtles, usually living around 80 years. But some tortoises have been known to live for well over 150 years!

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