Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

Kemp’s Ridley, Lepiochelys kempii, is a critically endangered species of sea turtle. Their range includes the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They are also the only turtle which almost all the females return to one single beach (Rancho Nuevo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas) every single year to lay their eggs.

They are the smallest of the sea turtle species, growing less than 40 inches and weighing about 100 pounds as an adult. Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle changes color with its development. As hatchlings they are almost entirely a dark gray-black but when they become adults they have a yellow-green or white plastron and a grey-green carapace.

The nesting season for these turtles is between April to June, though some nest as late as July or August. The adult sea turtles mate offshore and when a powerful wind blows from the north the females land in groups on the beach (they prefer areas with dunes followed by swamps). They are the only species of sea turtle known to lay their eggs during the day. Females nest three times during a season with roughly 10 to 28 days between each nesting. Incubation can take anywhere from 45 to 70 days. There are, on average, around 110 eggs per nesting.

These turtles are called Kemp’s Ridley because Richard Kemp (of Key West) was the first to send in a specimen of the species to Samuel Garman at Harvard. Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are nicknamed the “Heartbreak Turtle” because when they died on deck of boats they would lie on their backs so fishermen would say that it died of a broken heart.