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Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Facts

Size 40 inches (100 cm)
Speed Up to 15 mph (24 km/h)
Weight 165-176 pounds (75-80 kg)
Lifespan 30-40 years
Food Sponges, algae, cnidarians, jellyfish, sea anemones
Predators Sharks
Distribution Atlantic, Pacific
Habitat Tropical and subtropical seas
Class Reptiles
Order Turtles
Family Sea turtles
Scientific name Eretmochelys imbricata
Characteristics Turtle with beak-like mouth, narrow head

Main Characteristics

The hawksbill turtle is one of seven sea turtle species. It is critically endangered and therefore a symbol of species and marine conservation. Between 1844 and 1992, almost nine million of them were killed. Today only about 2,000 animals remain.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Photo: Rich Cary/Shutterstock

Distribution and Habitat

The hawksbill turtle prefers tropical lagoons, coral reefs and mangroves. When they migrate, they tend to stay in the open ocean. They can be found from the Indian Ocean across the Pacific to the Atlantic. They don't live in the Mediterranean Sea.


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Life Style

The hawksbill sea turtle is a diurnal solitary animal. While following the oceans currents, it spends most of its time searching for food and looking for a mate. When it isn't active, it rests in a cave or hides behind a ledge.

Anatomy and Appearance

Unlike the giant leatherback sea turtle, the large green sea turtle and the heavy loggerhead sea turtle, the hawksbill turtle is rather small and lightweight.

Size and Weight

The hawksbill turtle has a shell length of around 40 inches (100 cm) and weighs around 165-176 pounds (75-80 kg). The heaviest was 280 pounds (127 kg).

Beak

The hawksbill turtle is easy to identify: It has a long neck, a narrow head and a beak-like mouth. Overall, the shape of its head looks a bit like that of a bird. That's why it is named after the beak of a hawk.

Shell

The hawksbill sea turtle has five central scutes and four lateral scutes. They perfectly fit together like puzzle pieces and display beautiful patterns of light and dark lines. However, they are not always clearly visible because algae often grow on their shells.


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Hawksbill or Loggerhead Turtle – What's the Difference?

When comparing the two species, the most noticeable difference lies in the scutes. The loggerhead has an additional lateral scute (five).

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Photo: Mark Hunter/stock.adobe.com

Diet

The hawksbill sea turtle is an omnivore. It feeds on sponges, algae, cnidarians, jellyfish, sea anemones, fish, crustaceans and molluscs. Sponges make up 70-95% of their diet. It even eats venomous jellyfish, for example the so-called “Portuguese man o' war“. It is one of the most venomous animals in the world.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Photo: dvlcom/stock.adobe.com

Behavior

Locomotion

Hawksbill sea turtles come to the beach to lay their eggs – just like all sea turtles. However, their flippers are not well suited for moving on land. They drag themselves across the sand. They pair their flippers diagonally. which means they move the left front and right hind flipper at the same time, as do the right front and left hind flipper. Other sea turtle species move all their flippers at the same time.

Senses and Abilities

Biofluorescence

The hawksbill sea turtle is the first reptile in which biofluorescence was detected, causing it to glow under UV light. Scientists believe that this phenomenon is a result of their diet, which includes biofluorescent corals like Physogyra lichtensteini.

Magnetic Sense

Like all sea turtles, hawksbill turtle have a magnetic sense. They are able to perceive the earth's magnetic field, which helps them navigating.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Photo: Rich Carey/Shutterstock

Life Expectancy

Hawksbill turtles can live to be 30-40 years old.

Enemies and Threats

Natural Enemies

There are only a few animals that can be dangerous to an adult hawksbill turtle: sharks, crocodiles and octopuses.

Human Impact

The hawksbill turtle's biggest enemy is humans. People hunt the animals to sell their meat as a delicacy. Their shells are sold to be used in jewelry and handicrafts. Their nests are plundered because their eggs are considered a delicacy, too.

How Many Hawksbill Turtles Are Left?

There are no reliable figures, but it is believed that there are 20,000 nesting females left worldwide. Many people are committed to protecting and helping the animals reproduce. However, the species' chances of recovering from human exploitation are low due to the limited number of animals.

What Can You Do to Save the Hawksbill Turtle?

Eat less fish

You can support sea turtles even if you're thousands of kilometers away by taking action from your dining table! Fishing nets are the greatest danger to animals. They make up 30-50% of the plastic in the ocean and pose a high negative impact on the entire sea. So, what happens if less fish is eaten? There is less fishing and there are fewer nets. With every fish you don't eat, you're helping the turtles – and all other sea creatures too.

Snorkeling and Diving

If you spot a turtle while snorkeling or diving, you should not chase, harass or even touch it. This creates great stress for the animals. Remember: you are in their “home.” Act like a guest :)

Speak to Fishermen

On the beach you often see people fishing with small hooks on a fishing line. They actually target fish, but turtles often swallow the hooks and die. Have a friendly chat with these people and educate them about the consequences of fishing with those hooks.

Importance for the Ecosystem

The presence of hawksbill turtles is essential for the underwater ecosystem as they actively reduce the surplus of sponges on coral reefs.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Photo: Vollverglasung/stock.adobe.com

Reproduction

Female hawksbill turtles reach sexual maturity at around 4-5 years of age. To lay eggs, the female uses its flippers to pull itself onto land. It then digs a hole in the sand with its hind flippers and lays approximately 140 eggs in it. When it is finished, it closes the cave with sand and returns to the sea. The baby turtles hatch after two months - at night when fewer enemies are active. They weigh less than 0.85 ounces (24 grams), are dark in color and have a heart-shaped shell of about one inch (2.5 cm) in length.

Fun Facts

The males have claws on their front flippers. They help hold on to the female during mating. It's not that easy in the water!

The Green Sea Turtle Is Related To:

  • Flatback Sea Turtle
  • Hawksbill Sea Turtle
  • Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
  • Leatherback Sea Turtle
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle
  • Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

Animals in the Same Biome:


Turtle Species Fact Sheets


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