Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys Kempii)

Kemps_Ridley_sea_turtle_nesting

Lepidochelys Kempii

Kemp’s Ridley adult sea turtles can be found mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. The juvenile Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles can be found in coastal areas of Canada and the east coasts of the US.

They will nest up to 3 times (slightly less than the Flatback Sea turtle) a season and lay about 110 eggs at a time. The egg’s incubation period lasts about 55 days. There are approximately 2,500 nesting females.

Read on below to learn more!

Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle facts

  • Scientific Name: Lepidochelys kempii (Latin). Tortuga Lora (Spanish).
  • Size: Average adult carapace (shell) is about 24 inches (65 cm)
  • Weight: Average adult is about 77 – 100 pounds (35 – 45 kg)
  • Habitat: These love shallowly areas near the coastal lines. They are drawn to muddy and sandy bottoms. You’ll find them hunting and scavenging for food in these types of places.
  • Food:  Crabs are their favourite food, especially the blue crab. They also feed on shrimps, clams, and mussels.
  • The Kemp’s Ridley is currently the most endangered sea turtle. The population count for nesting females ranges between 7,000 to 9,000.

What is the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle?

The smallest of sea turtles, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the fewest in number today. It has a life span that reaches 50 years. The Gulf of Mexico is their primary home with some residing as far as Nova Scotia. Upper shells are greenish to grey with cream to yellow bellies.

Some interesting Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle facts

  • This sea turtle gets its name from Richard Kemp. He discovered and helped with the study of the species.  A fisherman who lived in Key West, Florida; Mr. Kemp was the first to submit this species for identification in 1906. As for the name ‘Ridley’, it may have been added because of the similarity these sea turtles share with the way a ridley behaves during nesting.
  • The species suffered a rapid decline in numbers.  Film documentation in 1947 showed a mass number of over 40,000 Kemp’s ridleys nesting at Rancho Nuevo in Mexico. But by the middle of the 1980s, only 700 nests were seen in those same areas.
  • They are the only ones in their species that primarily nests in the daytime.

Where do Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles live?

Adults are seen within the confines of the Gulf of Mexico. The young (juveniles) are found within tropical or temperate coastal areas in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Some swim up and down the US east coast.

Anatomy

 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles can grow only up to 2 4 inches long. The head is triangular-shaped with a beak that is slightly hooked and a large crushing surface. Hatchlings are the darkest black which later matures to a greenish shade.

It is interesting to note that hatchlings have a caruncle. It is a single temporary tooth that grows for helping them break out of their shells. The carapace of adults is nearly circular on the top part. It usually measures the same in width as it is in length.

The bony carapace doesn’t have ridges. It has five large and rounded non-overlapping scales. The carapace can be dark grey or greenish-with a white to a yellowish plastron. They have one claw on the front flippers while the rear flipper can have up to 2 claws.

Habitat

Kemp’s Ridleys look for sandy and murky waters in shallow areas. Adults mostly live in nearshore coastal habitats which they find to be perfect feeding grounds. Besides the Mexican Gulf, they can be seen from Florida to New England. Some are spotted in the Mediterranean Sea and in the waters of Morocco on occasion.

Migration

Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles show long migration patterns. Thus, most of their time is lived in isolation; though, mating and nesting would provide them time for socialization. Male Kemp’s ridleys may migrate annually, swimming between breeding and feeding grounds.

Some, however, do not migrate and wait to mate with females they randomly chance upon. Migration patterns for the female Kemp’s ridleys show that they frequently migrate to and from their nesting beaches around Mexico and south of Texas.

Senses

Some studies show that sea turtles can hear low to mid frequencies of sound. Its hearing is poorer compared with some other mammals. This may be because the opening into their ear has a covering of thick skin (cutaneous plate).

This can dampen the sound they hear on land but provides good conduction for underwater sounds.  As for their sight, vision is nearsighted in the air but they can see well underwater. Sea turtles like a Kemp’s Ridley possess an acute sense of smell. They can capture the scent of good feeding spots.

What do Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles eat?

Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles dive into shallow waters to feed on crabs (their primary food) at the bottom. Powerful jaws allow them to easily squash and grind crabs and other hard-shelled prey. They also eat sea urchins, squid, fish, sargassum, seaweeds, and jellyfish. The Louisiana waters are their primary feeding ground in Mexico.

Movement

Like other sea turtles, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are in their element underwater. Though the smallest, they are equally fast swimmers. Their flippers and ideally contoured shells allow smooth movements in the water.

They can hold their breath for many hours as they make a long journey. They can stay underwater for at least 4 hours and even enjoy some sleeping time before coming back up for air. They are drawn to light and can use it for navigation while in the water or when making their way towards the shore and other safe places.

Laying eggs

Female become sexually mature at 12 years. They begin nesting in intervals of 1 to 3 years. Like ridleys, these sea turtles observe mass synchronized nesting. This practice is called ‘arribadas’, from a Spanish word that means ‘arrival’.

This method of nesting is unique to Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. Females take over specific portions of beaches. It can be a dramatic scene to watch as they continuously lug their bodies throughout the sandy beach, never stopping until they’ve satisfied themselves with their chosen nesting spot.

Clutch

Each season, they would lay several clutches. Nesting females may nest 2 to 3 times per season. They are high in migration and makes the long travel back to their nesting beach. Each clutch can bear 100 to 110 eggs on average. Hatchlings break their way out of their shells in 55 days.

What are the predators they face?

Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles practice mass nesting and this attracts a lot of predators. Weasels, foxes, raccoons, and dogs eat exposed eggs on the sandy beaches. Hatchlings are also in danger of predators while they crawl their way to the water. There are also human predators to contend with. Some kill adults and youngsters for their meat.

Why are Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles endangered?

The overharvesting of Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle eggs poses the greatest threat to their survival. Efforts are underway to protect nesting grounds and to prevent fishing entanglements and capture. Accidental captures by shrimp trawlers is another factor that contributed to their significant decline.

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