Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Photograph of Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle


Texas Status
U.S. Status
Endangered, Listed 12/02/1970
Kemp's ridley sea turtles grow to 27-32 inches (68 to 82 cm) long and weigh on average 75-100 pounds (33 to 45 kg). Distinguishing characteristics include a dark gray to gray-green carapace (upper shell), cream to tan plasteron (lower shell), streamlined shells, and appendages shaped like flippers.The turtle's dark, spotted head and flippers contrast sharply with its pale body.
Life History
The male Kemp's ridley spends its entire life in the water while the female only comes ashore to nest, sometimes joining large groups of nesting females called arribazones. A female will only lay eggs during the day. She will come back to the same beach to nest year after year. About 125,000 hatchlings leave nests on North American shores, but only one percent of those will survive to sexual maturity. Sexual maturity is reached at about 10-15 years for females. Little is known about the males. Each one will lay as many as 100 soft, white eggs during nesting season. Each turtle digs a hole in the sand, deposits her eggs, and returns to the sea. In 50-55 days, the eggs hatch and the baby turtles (hatchlings) rush to the water and out to sea. As hatchlings, ridleys weigh about 0.5 ounces (14 g) with a shell the size of a half-dollar.

Their diet consists mostly of crabs; also shrimp, snails, clams, jellyfish, sea stars, and fish. Predators of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle include humans (hunting, boat propellers, nets, and refuse), followed by natural predation by shore birds, sharks and other sea animals. Individuals surviving to adulthood may live 30 years and possibly up to 50 years. After at least 10 years at sea, adult females return to nest at the same beach where they hatched. Some scientists believe that baby sea turtles may remember, or "imprint" on, the particular smell, chemical make-up, or magnetic location of the beach where they hatched. Others point out that sea turtles have magnetite, an iron ore, in their brains that they may use to navigate along the Earth's magnetic fields.

If the water grows cold, these sea turtles can adjust their metabolic rate and can remain underwater for hours. Turtles can go two to three months without food. Sea turtle "tears" are their way of ridding their body of saltwater through special glands. Eggs placed in a warm incubator tend to hatch as female turtles. Eggs kept at cooler temperatures hatch as males. The Kemp's ridley is the smallest of all the sea turtles. It is also known as the tortuga lora in Mexico, which means "parrot turtle" in reference to the beak-like shape of its head.
They prefer open ocean and gulf waters with the females only coming ashore to lay eggs in beach sand. Young Kemp's ridley sea turtles float on large mats of sargassum (a type of brown algae) in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
Kemp's ridley sea turtles are found in the coastal waters and bays of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
For more than 150 million years, sea turtles have roamed the earth. Although many sea turtle species are in danger, the Kemp's ridley sea turtle is the most endangered species worldwide. The Kemp's ridley sea turtle was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1970. Over the centuries, people have harvested the eggs and killed the turtles for their meat and leather-like skin. Between the 1940s and 1960s, the population crashed as people harvested truckloads of eggs and sold them in small towns in Texas and Mexico. More recent threats include suffocation in shrimpers' large nets and ingesting floating trash that they mistake for food. Governments of the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Colima and Jalisco were the very first to become involved in the protection of sea turtle eggs. The nesting beach at Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico is the primary nesting site for these turtles. It is the only known major nesting beach for this species in the world. Thanks to the work of a large team of scientists, a secondary nesting population has been established on Padre Island National Seashore. To continue the success of this secondary site, citizens are asked to leave the animals alone, but report any sightings to a park ranger or local game warden.