Leatherback turtle: characteristics, feeding and habitat

The specimens of this species can measure more than two meters long and reach a weight of no less than 600 kilos; even though it is a reptile, it is capable of regulating its temperature and keeping it higher than the outside, something typical of mammals.
Leatherback turtle: characteristics, feeding, and habitat

The leatherback turtle is the largest of all the turtles we know. It travels all over the seas, and perhaps that’s why it has a shell with such a peculiar shape. Discover all the curiosities of this reptile below:

Characteristics of the leatherback turtle

The leatherback turtle is the largest of all known turtles: it can grow to be more than two meters long and they think about 600 kilograms. Once a turtle was discovered that had reached almost 900, but it was an anomaly.

Like all other turtles, it belongs to the reptile family. However, there is one characteristic that is still a mystery: this animal manages to keep its body at a higher temperature than the outside. Reptiles depend on the outside temperature to regulate their body; being able to generate their own body heat is mammalian.

Leatherback turtle: food

Despite this, the most curious feature of the leatherback turtle is its shell: normally, the outside of the turtle is a hard shell formed by bony shields. However, the leatherback turtle’s shell is soft, composed of a tissue that can resemble leather.

For this reason, this turtle does not have a rounded shape with the edges of the shell and dungarees well differentiated, as is the case with other relatives close to it. On the contrary, its body forms a soft curve that sharpens as the tail approaches: this curious shape is reminiscent of the lute, the musical instrument that gives it its name.

Leatherback turtle feeding

The leatherback turtle has no teeth: its mouth is formed by a beak and its throat has beards that help it swallow its prey. The diet of this animal is based mainly on jellyfish. They move around the world looking for jellyfish to hunt, but if necessary they can also hunt small fish, crustaceans, squid and even algae.

Leatherback turtles eat a lot of jellyfish: they can eat their own weight every day. Therefore, these reptiles are very important for maintaining ecological balance and controlling the size of jellyfish populations.

Sadly, they often confuse human waste with food: plastics can look like jellyfish. Numerous dead leatherback turtles have been found with stomachs full of plastic bags, clear thread or pieces of fishing nets.

Leatherback Turtle Habitat

They tend to be found in cooler oceans than other species of turtles due to their ability to maintain their body temperature, and perhaps because of this, they are also more widespread throughout the planet than the rest of their relatives. Except at the poles, they are present in all oceans.

Leatherback turtle: habitat

During the summer months, leatherback turtles are most commonly seen on the coasts of North America, both in the Atlantic and Pacific. As winter approaches, they migrate and concentrate in the warmer seas: the coasts of South America, while the European ones travel south to central Africa. Asian turtles are concentrated around Indonesia and Australia.

However, these animals can change oceans during their lifetime. Turtles have been discovered that had been observed on one continent, and a few years later they were on the other side of the planet. We know that they orient themselves and make their journeys thanks to the magnetic fields of the Earth.

They like to live and move quite deep from the sea surface: it is known that they can go down to 900 meters. It is able to spend long periods of time underwater because it is able to extract oxygen from the water around it in order to breathe.

Conservation of the leatherback turtle

Adult leatherback turtles are large animals that do not have predators, but eggs and hatchlings are very vulnerable: few juveniles become adult specimens.

Conservation of the leatherback turtle

The greatest threat to the populations of these reptiles comes from human activity: one of them is the destruction or alteration of the beaches where the turtles lay their eggs and where the newly hatched hatchlings must find the sea.

For adult specimens, contamination that causes them to ingest plastics, become poisoned or entangled and immobilized is the greatest threat. There are few cases of turtles colliding with ships.

The leatherback turtle is currently considered an endangered animal, but its status is not a concern. In spite of this, it is known that its population continues to decline and there are more and more problems in front of it.

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