Description: Kemps ridley sea turtles, the
smallest of the marine turtles, have a carapace length of 52-75 cm (20.3-29.3
in) and weigh 36-45 kg (80-100 lb). The carapace is unique in that it is rounded
and flattened, with a distinct keel running down the midline. The color of both
carapace and flippers is gray to olive green on top. The first costal scute on
each side of the turtle is reduced and touches the nuchal scute. There are five
costal scutes in total. Kemps ridleys also have four bridge scutes, each
of which contains a noticeable pore. The large scutes of the carapace overlap.
Each flipper has one claw.
Distribution and Habitat: While Kemps
ridleys can be found in the western Atlantic as far north as southern New England
and as far south as southern Brazil, they are confined mostly to the Gulf of Mexico.
They nest almost exclusively in one location. Every year females lay their eggs
on a beach near Rancho Nuevo in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Nesting does occasionally
occur in other places on the Gulf coasts of Mexico and Texas. Juveniles search
for food in the shallow waters around estuaries, river mouths, bays, and lagoons
from New England to Georgia. Adults prefer muddy or sandy benthic environments
where their favorite foods, crustaceans and mollusks, are abundant.
and Development: Egg laying in this species is synchronized. Presumably to
reduce predation risk, thousands of females come ashore to nest, all within the
span of a few days. This phenomenon, known as arribada (Spanish for arrival)
occurs from April to August at intervals of about 28 days. Not only do females
nest at the same time, but they also nest during the day, which does not typically
occur in any other species of sea turtle. The average clutch size is 110 eggs,
and females typically lay up to four clutches per year. There has been some concern
over a recent decrease in clutch size, but it is speculated that this is due to
a higher number of novice nesters in response to conservation efforts. The incubation
period is 45-58 days. Sex is temperature dependent; warmer temperatures yield
a higher number of females.
Habits: The diet of Kemps ridleys
is highly varied. Juveniles feed on seaweed, pelagic crabs, and mollusks at the
surface. At a length of around 20 cm (7.8 in), crabs and mollusks on the ocean
floor become the preferred food source. Adults have very few predators. As is
the case with most sea turtles, sharks and humans present the most danger. Hatchlings
are defenseless and are eaten by a diversity of predators.
Listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, Kemps ridley sea turtles are
the rarest of all the sea turtles. Their tradition of day nesting may have evolved
under the philosophy of protection in numbers, but this conspicuous behavior makes
them easy targets for humans and other mammals. Fortunately, recent conservation
efforts by Mexico and the United States have caused the population size to increase.
The use of Turtle Exclusion Devices (TEDs) is essential for the survival of this
Conant, R., and J. T. Collins.
A Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America.
3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
Gulko, D., and K. Eckert. Sea Turtles:
An Ecological Guide. Honolulu: Mutual, 2004.
Jensen, J. B., C. D. Camp,
W. Gibbons, and M. J. Elliott. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia. Athens: University
of Georgia, 2008.
Account Author: Lindsay Partymiller