The hawksbill turtle, like all sea turtles has a large shell on its back. The upper surface of this (carapace) is colored dark with light markings across it. This shell features a central keel with serrated edges.
Projecting out from the body are four strong flippers used to push them through the water.
They are one of the smallest species of marine turtles and can measure between 60 and 80cm (23.5-32in) long. An average weight for this species is between 45 and 68kg (100-150lbs).
Individuals living in the Indian Ocean tend to be smaller than those in the Pacific or Atlantic.
The name of this species comes from the narrow beak which is said to resemble that of a hawk.
Hawksbill turtles are considered omnivores. These animals feed on sea sponges, molluscs, sea anemones, algae, and jellyfish. They can extract these from crevices on a reef using the narrow, pointed beak.
They are the only species of sea turtle which can survive mostly on sea sponges.
Some of the foods eaten by the hawksbill turtle are toxic. Their body can absorb these toxins without harm but they make the species poisonous for other animals to consume.
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Hawksbill turtles make their home in the world’s oceans being found in tropical regions of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific ocean.
These animals can be found around coral reefs and pelagic environments. In some parts of their range they live in mangrove estuaries.
Mating takes place in the ocean with egg laying occurring on land.
Females come to land where they can deposit as many as 160 eggs in their nest. Each season they may nest between 3 and 5 times. Nests are often located high on the beach or among vegetation.
While they produce a large number of eggs most of these do not reach adulthood.
These will be incubated for up to 60 days before the hatchlings emerge and race to the ocean.
Often a female will return to the same nesting beach where she hatched.
At birth the young have a heart-shaped shell which takes on the elongated shape of the adults as they age. They are mostly brown in color when they are young.
Sexual maturity is reached around 30 years old. Most individuals will breed once every two years.
These animals are less mobile than other turtle species. Often they have a home reef where they spend much of their adult years.
Almost their entire life is spent in the ocean. Females will go on land to lay eggs.
Predators and Threats
These animals are responsible for the popular tortoiseshell pattern which has become popular in consumer goods. This has created a high-demand for this species to be hunted. Their eggs may also be targeted.
Another threat is bycatch in fishing gear. Often they drown when they cannot surface due to entanglement in this equipment.
In some parts of their range where numbers are reduced they have begun to interbreed with other sea turtle species.
Hawksbill turtles are one of seven marine turtle species.
Today’s modern sea turtles are the living relatives of a 100 million year old group of reptiles.
By I, Thierry Caro, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2526481
By Daniel Sasse – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91008933
By DRVIP93 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76552342
By B.navez – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1178506
Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK
World Wildlife Fund. 2021. Hawksbill Turtle | Sea Turtles | Species | WWF. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/hawksbill-turtle> [Accessed 22 March 2021].
Olive Ridley Project. 2021. Hawksbill Turtle – Olive Ridley Project. [online] Available at: <https://oliveridleyproject.org/hawksbill-turtle> [Accessed 22 March 2021].
NOAA. 2021. Hawksbill Turtle. [online] Available at: <https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/hawksbill-turtle> [Accessed 22 March 2021].
Environment | Department of Environment and Science, Queensland. 2021. Hawksbill turtle. [online] Available at: <https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/animals/discovering-wildlife/turtle-watching/turtle-species/hawksbill-turtle> [Accessed 22 March 2021].
Oceana. 2021. Hawksbill Turtle. [online] Available at: <https://oceana.org/marine-life/sea-turtles-reptiles/hawksbill-turtle> [Accessed 22 March 2021].
National Wildlife Federation. 2021. Hawksbill Sea Turtle | National Wildlife Federation. [online] Available at: <https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Reptiles/Sea-Turtles/Hawksbill-Sea-Turtle> [Accessed 22 March 2021].
Mortimer, J.A & Donnelly, M. (IUCN SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group). 2008. Eretmochelys imbricata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T8005A12881238. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T8005A12881238.en. Downloaded on 22 March 2021.
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