Green Sea Turtle

Green Turtle / Andy Bruckner, NOAA
Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas). Andy Bruckner, NOAA

Do you know how green turtles got their name? It's not for the color of their shell, or skin. Read on to find out!

Green Sea Turtle Identification:

The green turtle weighs between 240-420 pounds. The green turtle's carapace can be many colors, including shades of black, gray, green, brown or yellow. Their scutes may have radiating stripes. The carapace is 3-5 feet long.

For their size, green sea turtles have a relatively small head and flippers.

These turtles have 4 lateral scutes (side scales) on each side of their carapace. Their flippers have one visible claw. 

Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Testudines
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Genus: Chelonia
  • Species: mydas

In some classification systems, the green turtle is divided into two subspecies, the green turtle (Chelonia mydas mydas) and the black or Eastern Pacific green turtle (Chelonia mydas agassizii). There is debate over weather the black turtle, which has darker skin, is actually a separate species. 

Habitat and Distribution:

Green sea turtles are found in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world, including in the waters of at least 140 countries.  They tend to favor certain areas, and may even rest in the same location each night. 

Feeding:

How did green turtles get their name? It is from the color of their fat, which is thought to be related to their diet.

Adult green turtles are the only herbivorous sea turtles. When young, green turtles are carnivorous, feeding on snails and ctenophores (comb jellies), but as adults they eat seaweeds and seagrass.

Reproduction:

Female green turtles nest in tropical and subtropical regions - some of the biggest nesting areas are in Costa Rica and Australia.

Females lay about 100 eggs at a time, and will lay 1-7 clutches of eggs during the nesting season, spending about 2 weeks in the ocean in between. After the nesting season, females wait between 2-6 years before coming ashore to nest again.

The eggs hatch after incubating for about 2 months, and the hatchlings weigh only about 1 ounce and are 1.5-2 inches long. They head to the sea, where they spend time offshore until they reach a length of 8-10 inches, and move toward the coast, living eventually in shallow areas with seagrass beds. Green turtles may live over 60 years.

Conservation:

Green turtles are endangered. They are threatened by harvesting (for turtle meat and eggs), bycatch in fishing gear, habitat destruction and pollution. Their green fat and muscles have been used for hundreds of years as food, such as in steak or soup. 

Sources:

  • Sea Turtle Conservancy. Information About Sea Turtles: Green Sea Turtle. Accessed August 10, 2015.
  • Spotila, James R. Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior and Conservation 2004. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Turtles.org The Atlantic Green Turtle (Online). Accessed February 16, 2011.
  • Waller, Geoffrey, ed. SeaLife: A Complete Guide to the Marine Environment. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington, D.C. 1996.