Leatherback Turtles

Turtle Care GuideScientific name: Dermochelys coriacea (Only living species under genus Dermochelys)

Common names: Leathery turtle, leatherback, trunkback turtle, etc.

Habitat: Open ocean (Nest on the sea beach which make their existence endangered!)

Distribution: Cosmopolitan. Found in a tropical, sub-tropical and Arctic Ocean.

Evolution: It was the Cretaceous era about 110 million years ago when they first appeared on this earth.


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Characteristic features:

  1. Large, round, dorsoventrally flat body;
  2. Four large clawless flippers (as big as 2.7 meters) and a small projecting tail;
  3. Front flippers are meant for swimming;
  4. In place of bony shell, they have an elongated leathery cover on its carapace made of rubbery, thin, tough skin and oily flesh in which minute bony plates are embedded. Hence called ‘Leatherback Turtle’;
  5. Carapace has 7 anterior to posterior ridges;
  6. Dorsal surface – blackish grey; Ventral surface – light colored;
  7. Pointed upper lip acts as teeth;
  8. Backward spines inside throat to swallow food;
  9. Body temperature remains 18ºC more than the surrounding water.


Leatherback turtles are:

  • largest marine turtles
  • fourth largest (can grow up to 8 feet) among aquatic reptiles
  • deep sea divers (found at 1,230 meters of depth)
  • weighty and can even be 300 to 600 kgs.
  • capable of storing oxygen in the tissues and blood unlike other turtles whose oxygen is stored in the lungs. Hence they can actively survive in cold, deep sea water at 4.5º Celsius!
  • great swimmers and fastest aquatic reptile (swim at 35.28 km/hr speed and can cover 20,000 km in 647 days)


Favorite hunt – Squid and Jelly fish; but may savor crabs, octopus, slugs, sea snails, etc.  Nesting: They come to the beach every 2 to 3 years or once a year to dig out nests to lay 60 to 120 eggs. After laying eggs, they back-fill the hole with sand to save them from predators. After 60 to 70 days hatchlings dig out of the nest and crawl back to the sea after nightfall.


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According to IUCN (The World Conservation Union) leatherback turtles are critically endangered species. They are either killed by human beings or by other predators like fish, bird etc. during their juvenile period.

Sometimes they are caught unaware in the fishing nets. Eggs are considered as a delicacy in some places. They die of chemicals and oil spillage too. Even plastics can also cause their death by intestinal blockage as they mistakenly consume them considering jellyfish.


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