7 Species of Sea Turtles

These animals have been around for millions of years

Sea turtles are charismatic animals that have been around for millions of years. There is some debate on the number of sea turtle species, although seven have traditionally been recognized.

Sea Turtle Families

Six of the species are classified in the Family Cheloniidae. This family includes the hawksbill, green, flatback, loggerhead, Kemp's ridley, and olive ridley turtles. These all look fairly similar when compared to the seventh species, the leatherback. The leatherback is the only sea turtle species in its own family, Dermochelyidae, and looks very different from the other species.

Sea Turtles Are Endangered

All seven species of sea turtles are listed under the Endangered Species Act

Leatherback Turtle Digging a Nest
Leatherback turtle, digging a nest in the sand. C. Allan Morgan/Photolibrary/Getty Images

The leatherback turtle  (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest sea turtle. These gigantic reptiles can reach lengths over 6 feet and weights over 2,000 pounds.

Leatherbacks look much different than other sea turtles, Their shell consists of a single piece with 5 ridges, which is distinctive from other turtles who have plated shells. Their skin is dark and is covered with white or pink spots. 

Diet

Leatherbacks are deep divers with the ability to dive to over 3,000 feet.  They feed on jellyfish, salps, crustaceans, squid, and urchins.

Habitat

This species nests on tropical beaches, but can migrate as far north as Canada during the rest of the year.  More »

Green Turtle
Green Sea Turtle. Westend61 - Gerald Nowak/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is large, with a carapace up to 3 feet long. Green turtles weigh up to 350 pounds. Their carapace can include shades of black, gray, green, brown or yellow. Scutes may contain a beautiful pigmentation that looks like a sun's rays. 

Diet

Adult green turtles are the only herbivorous sea turtles. When young, they are carnivorous, but as adults, they eat seaweeds and seagrass. This diet gives their fat a green tinge, which is how the turtle got its name.

Habitat

Green turtles live in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world.

There is some debate over green turtle classification. Some scientists classify the green turtle into two species, the green turtle and the black sea turtle or Pacific green sea turtle. The black sea turtle may also be considered a subspecies of the green turtle. This turtle is darker in color and has a smaller head than the green turtle. More »

Loggerhead Turtle / Upendra Kanda / Moment / Getty Images
Loggerhead Turtle. Upendra Kanda / Moment / Getty Images

Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) are a reddish-brown turtle with 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.

Diet

They feed on crabs, mollusks, and jellyfish.

Habitat

Loggerheads live in temperate and tropical waters throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. More »

Hawksbill Turtle
Hawksbill Turtle, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles. Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) 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.

Diet

Hawksbill turtles feed on sponges and have an amazing ability to digest the needle-like skeleton of these animals.

Habitat

Hawksbill turtles live in tropical and subtropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They can be found among reefs, rocky areas, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and estuaries. More »

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Kemp's Ridley Turtle

Kemp's Ridley Turtle
Kemp's Ridley Turtle. YURI CORTEZ/AFP Creative/Getty Images

At lengths up to 30 inches and weights of 80-100 pounds, the Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) is the smallest sea turtle. This species is named after Richard Kemp, the fisherman who first described them in 1906.

Diet

Kemp's ridley turtles prefer to eat benthic organisms such as crabs.

Habitat

They are coastal turtles and found in temperate to sub-tropical waters in the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. They are most often found in habitats with sandy or muddy bottoms where it is easy to find prey. They are famous for nesting in huge groups called arribadas

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Olive Ridley Turtle

Olive Ridley Turtle, Channel Islands, California
Olive Ridley Turtle, Channel Islands, California. Gerard Soury/Oxford Scientific/Getty Image

Olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) are named for — you guessed it — their olive-colored shell. Like the Kemp’s Ridley, they are small and weigh less than 100 pounds.

Diet

They eat mostly invertebrates such as crabs, shrimp, rock lobsters, jellyfish, and tunicates, although some eat primarily algae. 

Habitat

They are found in tropical regions around the world.  Like Kemp's ridley turtles, during nesting, olive ridley females come to shore in colonies of up to a thousand turtles, with mass nesting aggregations called arribadas. These occur on the coasts of Central America and East India.

Flatback turtle digging in sand, Northern Territory, Australia
Flatback turtle digging in sand, Northern Territory, Australia. Auscape/UIG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Flatback turtles (​Natator depressus) are named for their flattened carapace, which is olive-gray in color. This is the only sea turtle species not found in the United States.

Diet

Flatback turtles eat squid, sea cucumbers, soft corals and mollusks.

Habitat

The flatback turtle is only found in Australia and lives in coastal waters. More »