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Species Description

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Dermochelys coriacea

Species Image


Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Family: Dermochelyidae


The shell is covered by a smooth, leathery skin which is either slate black, bluish black, or black, with scattered small white to yellowish blotches. The skin of the head, neck, and limbs is black, brown, or dark green with scattered small white, yellowish, or pinkish blotches. The belly is mostly white. The Leatherback is the largest living turtle in the world. Adults average from 1.35 - 1.780 m (53 - 70 in) in carapace length and weigh from 295 - 544 kg (650 - 1,200 lbs). The record for carapace length is 2.44 m (96 in), and the record weight is 916 kg (2,016 lbs). The front limbs are modified into very large flippers and the smaller hind limbs are paddle-like.

Life Cycle

The only recorded observation of mating in this turtle was in the month of April. Females return to nest only every 2 - 4 years. They come ashore at night and dig a flask-shaped cavity in moist sand, into which they lay an average of 80 - 90 eggs. The eggs generally hatch within 60 - 65 days and the young emerge from the nest at night to make their way to the sea. Leatherbacks nest from April to July in the weastern Atlantic, nesting on beachs of Central and South America, islands of the Caribbean in the Gulf of Mexico and as far north as Georgia along the Atlantic Ocean.

Natural History

Very little is known about this pelagic species. Foods are primarily jellyfish, but crustaceans, squid, octopus, and small fish are also eaten. One of the world's deepest diving air-breathing animals, this species has been recorded at depths over 1,000 m (3,300 ft). It is believed that these deep dives are made in search of species of jellyfish that live at these depths.


Leatherback Sea Turtle Region Map The Leatherback is the most widely distributed reptile species in the world, it occurs in the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as well as lesser seas. It is seasonally distributed in far northern and southern waters, where it can feed on coldwater jellyfish.

Conservation Status

The Leatherback is listed as an Endangered species by the state of Georgia and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which protects it from capture or disturbance.

Similar Species

No similar species exist.