There are 21 flatback sea turtle facts in this list ranging from their habitat and diet to their nesting habits and endangerment, you’ll discover everything you need to know about this fascinating species.
As its name suggests, this sea turtle has a unique flattened shell that sets it apart from other sea turtle species.
Table of Contents
Flatback sea turtle facts
1. Scientific Name
The scientific name for the flatback sea turtle is Natator depressus. “Natator” means swimmer in Latin, while “depressus” means flattened or low, which describes the turtle’s unique shell shape.
The average adult flatback sea turtle measures about 3.25 feet (99 cm) in carapace length. They are slightly smaller than some other sea turtle species.
Adult flatback sea turtles weigh an average of 198 pounds (90 kg).
Flatback sea turtles prefer shallow, turbid waters inshore, particularly in areas near bays and coral reefs. They are often found in grassy areas and are the only sea turtle species that only inhabit the waters surrounding Papua New Guinea and Australia.
5. Food (diet)
Flatback sea turtles are omnivores, and their diet consists of a variety of prey including jellyfish, sea cucumbers, prawns, mollusks, seaweed, and other invertebrates. They also occasionally eat small fish.
6. Larger Hatchlings
Flatback sea turtle hatchlings are larger than hatchlings of other sea turtle species, typically measuring about 2.5 inches (6.5 cm) in carapace length.
7. Limited Distribution
Flatback sea turtles can only be found in the marine waters surrounding Papua New Guinea and Australia. They have the smallest distribution range among all other sea turtle species.
8. Least Studied
Flatback sea turtles are the least studied of all sea turtle species. More research is needed to understand their behavior and biology.
9. Distinct Species
Before 1988, flatback sea turtles were considered a variant of green turtles, but now they are recognized as a distinct species.
10. Flattened Shell
Flatback sea turtles are unique among sea turtles for their flattened shell. Their dome is distinctly lower compared to other sea turtle species, and their heads are larger and more triangular in shape. They have one claw on each flipper.
11. Nesting Frequency: Up to 4 Times a Year
Flatback sea turtles nest up to four times a year, which is more frequent than other sea turtle species. Each time, they lay about 50 eggs.
12. Distinctive Coloration
Flatback sea turtles have a unique appearance with greenish or olive-shaded flippers and pale undersides.
13. Limited Migration
Unlike other sea turtle species, flatback sea turtles do not take long or open ocean migrations. They stay in coastal waters, often in waters 200 feet deep or less.
14. Shallow Diving Depth
Flatback sea turtles are not deep divers, and typically only dive to depths of around 60 feet (18 meters).
15. Vulnerable Status
The flatback sea turtle is listed as “Vulnerable” to extinction under the Australian Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act, and is listed as “Data Deficient” internationally due to a lack of updated research on their state, number, and distribution.
16. Small Clutches
Flatback sea turtles have smaller clutches (or nests) of eggs. They lay 2 or 3 clutches each season, and each nest has 50 eggs or less. Female flatbacks go back and forth from the shallow waters to the nesting beach to lay eggs.
17. Incubation Period
Flatback sea turtle eggs incubate for 55 days before hatching.
18. Endangered Status
Although the flatback sea turtle has a limited range, it is still considered endangered due to the threats posed by captivity, fishing, and net entanglement. Other threats to their preservation include diseases, entanglement and ingestion of marine debris and rubbish, and the destruction of coral reefs and other feeding habitats.
19. Unique Range
Flatback sea turtles are unique in that they are only found in the waters surrounding Papua New Guinea and Australia, making their range very limited.
20. Limited Sight
Flatback sea turtles can see well underwater but have limited vision on land.
21. Natural Compass
Like other sea turtle species, flatback sea turtles have an internal compass that helps them navigate through and orient themselves to the earth’s magnetic field. This helps them swim safely and accurately through the surf zone.
What do flatback sea turtles eat?
Flatback sea turtles are omnivores. You can see them feeding on a variety of prey including bryozoans, jellies, sea cucumbers, shrimps, soft corals, crabs, various fishes, molluscs, and seaweeds.
What predators does the flat back sea turtle face?
Humans are dangerous predators to flatback sea turtles. Some hunt them for their meat or the eggs. Saltwater crocodiles are the largest reptiles which prey on flatback sea turtles. These crocs tend to attack female flatbacks while nesting. Other predators who devour the nests and the hatchlings are dingoes, Sand Monitor lizards, Pelicans, Night Herons, foxes, and dogs.
Feral pigs, who have great sense of smell, prey heavily on flatback sea turtle eggs. They are a top threat in Cape York Peninsula. Reports state that they consume 90% of eggs laid by flatbacks on some beaches.
Why are flatback sea turtles endangered?
Data and sightings of flatback sea turtles are lacking. The range is limited; they are mostly spotted in Papua New Guinea and around Australia. But they are vulnerable to endangerment because of captivity, fishing, and net entanglement.
Other threats to their preservation are diseases, entanglement and ingestion of marine debris and rubbish. The destruction of coral reefs and other feeding habitats also pose problems as well as commercial developments on coastal beaches.
Pollution and increase in coastal developments do pose great threats in many areas. These can cause disorientation in hatchlings, leading them away from safe, familiar zones towards unsafe areas.
In summary, the flatback sea turtle is a unique and fascinating species that can only be found in the marine waters around Papua New Guinea and Australia. They have a flattened shell, one claw on each flipper, and a triangular head, and they are non-migratory and prefer to stay in shallow coastal waters. Flatback sea turtles are vulnerable to endangerment, and their preservation requires further research and conservation efforts.
More Sea Turtle Stuff
- Sea Turtles Species
- Green Sea Turtles
- Hawksbill Sea Turtle
- Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
- Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
- Leatherback Sea Turtle
- Loggerhead Sea Turtle