Facts About the Leatherback Sea Turtle

Facts About the Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherback turtles are vulnerable turtle species listed in the red list of the International Union of Conservation of Nature. Read on for interesting facts about leatherback sea turtles.

Weight: 250 – 700 kg (Adult)

Scientific name: Dermochelys coriacea

Length: 1.8 – 2.2 m (Adult)

Clutch size: 110

Downward curved spines

Leatherback sea turtles are known for their downwardly curved spines, also known as papillae. The spines in their mouth and throat help them capture and swallow their prey.

They can consume twice their body weight

Leatherback sea turtles consume mainly soft and invertebrate species like jellyfish and tunicates. They can eat twice their body weight within a day.

They have a softer carapace

All turtle species have a bony and sturdy carapace covered with hard scales resembling alligator skin. However, leatherback sea turtle is unique and has a soft and leathery carapace made of specially evolved bone structure.

One of the oldest species on earth

It is possible that their carapace’ soft structure is a result of 100 million years of evolution that survived past the dinosaur era.

They are pelagic

Which means you can rarely find them ashore or too close to the sea depth. Leatherback enjoy the open sea. The only time they set their foot in coastal regions of the subtropics is during their mating or nesting season.

They can dive at great depths

Due to their special carapace, they can dive deep into the ocean.

Physical adaptations

Leatherback sea turtles have amazing adaptations. Some classic examples are –

  • High tolerance to cold water due to thermoregulation adaptation and ability to maintain body temperature.
  • Ability to dive to deep depths due to their flexible carapace. They can dive to the depths of 1,200 meters. Only some sharks and whales can dive upto this depth.
  • The carapace is not only elongated but large and flexible with 7 ridges running through the entire length, making it strong.
  • Like most other turtles, leatherbacks have no teeth. It has sharp and pointy ridges in its upper and lower jaws to chop the food before it gets swallowed.
  • In addition to a flexible carapace, leatherbacks hind limbs are very powerful that allow them to travel at great speeds under water.

Found almost throughout the world

Of all the species of turtles, leatherback turtle’s distribution is most widespread. You can find leatherback turtles throughout the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.


The reason behind strong thermoregulation of the leatherback is thick layers of fat that provide strong insulation.

The largest turtles in the world

They can usually measure from 1.3 to 2.4 meters lengthwise and weigh between 250 and 900 kg.

Leatherback predators

Leatherback sea turtles are widely hunted for their shell, eggs, oil, and meat. Over the last two decades their population has declined tremendously and has brought them them under the list of “vulnerable” species. They are often also killed when they ingest plastic bags that looks very similar to jellyfish.

The largest leatherback

The largest leatherback, recorded in a file, was found dead on the coast of Wales in 1988. It weighed more than 909 kilograms and was 2.74 meters long. It might have been 100 years old.

Some cool facts about leatherbacks

1. Once a female leatherback was tracked by implanting an electronic device on its shell. It was discovered that it traveled nearly 19,000 kilometers.

2. Leatherback turtles lay 90 – 100 eggs in one nesting where the female digs the eggs in the sand. It also has the unique ability to camouflage the eggs thus dodging the predators.

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