Sea Turtle Identification Guide

   

Hawksbill turtles have dark flippers, a long, narrow beak, and a jagged, spiked edge to the rear part of their ornate shells. The scutes (or shell plates) overlap at each trailing edge, much like roof shingles. There are often barnacles growing on their shells. 

   

Green turtles have short beaks with two big scales between their eyes.  The flippers are dark on young individuals, then lighten as the turtle grows. Though the shells of green turtles may have many different shades and patterns of sunbursts and speckles, they are almost always very smooth and clean in appearance, and unlike the hawksbill, do not form spikes in the rear. Typically, few barnacles are found on green turtles.

   

Loggerhead turtles, as the name implies, have disproportionately large heads for the size of their bodies.  They are usually copper in color, with light brown flippers, and attain impressive sizes (350+ lbs.).  Their shells lack the ornate patterns of greens and hawksbills, and are usually host to large barnacles.

   

Leatherback turtles are by far the largest of the world’s sea turtles, and are usually in excess of six feet long.  They are basically black, but have varying numbers of white speckles covering their bodies.  They have 7 ridges running from front to back down the shell, which is covered with a delicate leathery skin.

 
     
 
Kemp’s Ridley turtles are rarely seen in our waters, but do make stops here during their annual migrations.  Ridleys are grey in color on both the shell and flippers, and their beaks form a pronounced ‘overbite’.  The shell is nearly round, rather than heart-shaped as with the other sea turtle species.
     

All photos on page by N. Ordway

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