Hawksbill turtle

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Scientific name

Eretmochelys imbricata

Family

Cheloniidae

Size

The hawksbill turtle generally grows to be about 1 meter (3 feet) in shell length, and adults can weigh more than 80 kg (180 lbs).

Lifespan

It is unknown how long hawksbill turtles live, but they do not reach maturity for 20 to 40 years, so they are thought to be quite long-lived, perhaps more than 100 years.

Did you know?

Hawksbill turtles are named for their distinctively shaped, curved beak. They can also be distinguished from other sea turtles by the shell, which has serrated edges: the shells of other turtles have smooth margins. The classic ‘tortoiseshell’ design is based on their shells, which were once heavily traded. Although illegal in most countries today, the harvesting of their shells for jewelry or other decorative pieces is one of the reasons the species remains critically endangered.

About Hawksbill turtles

Hawksbill turtles are highly migratory, and nest on sandy beaches throughout the tropics and subtropics. Upon hatching, the small juveniles are carried to the open ocean, where they remain until they reach a size of 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), after which they settle into hard bottom habitats, such as coral reefs and seagrass beds. Once they are settled, the turtles spend most of their time on the bottom, either foraging or resting, and make occasional forays to the surface to take a breath. Mature hawksbills undertake breeding migrations, and the females are known to return to the same beach where they were hatched to lay their eggs. 

Diet

Not much is known about the diet of the small juveniles during their open ocean phase, but the larger juveniles and adults that inhabit reef habitats are omnivores, eating both animals and plants, though diets differ by region. Hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean are known to eat primarily sponges, and they are picky about which types of sponges they like best. Because they are selective, they are thought to be important to the maintenance of healthy reef ecosystems by controlling sponge populations that would otherwise outcompete reef-building coral species.

Distribution

Hawksbill turtles can be found in tropical waters of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans.

Fun facts

  • Turtles raised in captivity and exclusively fed by humans still recognize the shape of sharks as a threat, and will exhibit avoidance behavior to shark-shaped models.

Hawksbill turtle photo gallery

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