Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle facts, pictures and information. This page is part of our sea turtles series.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Facts At A Glance
- Other Name(s): Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle, Gulf Ridley, Mexican Ridley
- Scientific name: Lepidochelys kempii
- Type of Animal: Reptile, Sea Turtle
- Animal Family: Cheloniidae
- Where Found: Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico
- Length: 58–75 cm (23–30 in.)
- Weight: 36–50 kg (79–110 lb.)
- Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
- Other interesting Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle facts: Kemp’s Ridley is the world’s smallest species of sea turtle.
Meet The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle: Introduction
The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is the world’s rarest sea turtle. 50 years ago the species narrowly avoided extinction, and even today is rated ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN.
During the nesting season, thousands of female Kemp’s ridley sea turtles emerge from the ocean at the same time. These mass gatherings are known locally as ‘arribadas’ (Spanish for ‘arrivals’) and rank among the natural world's most spectacular sights.
On this page you'll find out all about the life cycle of this amazing marine reptile. You'll also discover some of the threats currently faced by the species.
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Video
You can find out about the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle in this fascinating Texas Parks & Wildlife film:
What Does the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Look Like?
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the world’s smallest sea turtle. The largest specimens reach lengths of up to 75 cm (30 in.). On average, adults are between 60 and 70 cm (24 and 28 in.) in length. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles weigh up to 100 lb. (45 kg), with only the very largest specimens reaching 110 lb. (50 kg).
A Kemp’s ridley sea turtle’s carapace (shell) can be almost as wide as it is long, and is olive-gray in color. Its undersides are yellow. The species’ head is triangular and it has a hooked beak.
Like all sea turtles, the Kemp’s ridley has a pair of powerful front flippers with which it propels itself through the water. Kemp’s ridleys have a single claw on each of their front flippers, and either one or two claws on their hind flippers.
Hatchling Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are dark purple / black on both sides. They are around 3.8 cm (1.5 in.) in length and weigh just half an ounce (14g).
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Family & Related Animals
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is in the family Cheloniidae, which contains 6 of the 7 species of sea turtle alive today (the leatherback sea turtle is all on its own in the family Dermochelyidae).
You can see a list of every sea turtle here: Sea Turtles
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is one of two sea turtles in the genus Lepidochelys. The only other species of this genus is the closely-related olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).
Confused by terms such as ‘family’ and ‘genus’? Visit our Animal Classification page and all will become clear!
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is named after Richard Moore Kemp, a resident of Key West in Florida, USA. He sent a specimen of the turtle to zoologist Samuel Garman at Harvard University. The ‘ridley’ part of the name is a mystery; it may have come from a local name for the turtles in Florida.
Where Does the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Live?
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is found in warm coastal waters in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. It lives near the coast in areas with sandy or muddy bottoms, where it can easily find food. It is most abundant in the Gulf of Mexico
Although the species is usually only found off the coasts of the United States and Mexico, it does wander further afield; individuals have been seen as far north as Nova Scotia. The species has even been spotted off the coasts of both Ireland and England, on the other side of the Atlantic.
Before reaching maturity, young Kemp’s ridley sea turtles make their way further out to sea. They drift in fields of floating sargassum seaweed for several years before returning to coastal waters.
Where Do Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles Nest?
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles only use a very limited number of nesting sites. Most Kemp’s ridley sea turtles nest on a 16-mile stretch of coastline near the town of Rancho Nuevo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
This location is marked on the map below:
Another important nesting location is Padre Island in Texas. Smaller nesting sites are found in other locations in the west of the Gulf of Mexico.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Life Cycle
The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nesting season takes place from April to July. After mating offshore, thousands of female Kemp’s ridley sea turtles haul themselves out of the sea and onto the sandy beaches of their traditional nesting grounds. The turtle’s mass arrivals are known as arribadas or arribazones. They typically occur during the day.
The Kemp’s ridley and the closely-related olive ridley are the only sea turtles to exhibit this mass nesting behavior. They are also the only species that usually nest during the day. (The flatback will also nest during the day, but not as often.)
The turtle’s nest consists of a shallow hole that is excavated with the hind flippers. Nests are constructed from the high water mark to the dunes. The female will lay a clutch of between 90 to 130 ping-pong ball-sized eggs in the nest. After covering the eggs, the female turtle will return to the sea. She will pay no further part in the rearing of the infants, who are left to fend for themselves.
During the nesting season, a female will lay an average of 2.5 clutches. Although each turtle may lay hundreds of eggs during the nesting season, it is estimated that only 1% of hatchlings will reach maturity.
Females reproduce every 1 to 3 years.
Boys or Girls?
It takes between 50 to 55 days for the eggs to hatch. The sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the nest. If this is below 29.5 °C, most of the offspring will be male.
After hatching, the hatchlings will rush out of the nest towards the sea. While on the beach they are extremely vulnerable to predators such as ghost crabs, coyotes and various seabirds.
The hatchlings are guided by the light of the moon and stars reflected on the surface of the ocean. Hatchlings can become distracted by other sources of light, such as electric lights behind the beach, and follow these instead.
After entering the ocean, the male hatchlings will never again venture onto land.
The infant turtle spends the first 2 years of its life drifting offshore with mats of floating sargassum seaweed. During this time the turtle’s carapace will reach a length of around 8 in. (20 cm). At this stage the young turtle will make its way closer to the shore, where it will continue to grow.
The species reaches sexual maturity at 10 to 15 years of age.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Diet
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle mainly forages on the sea bed. Its diet comprises a wide variety of invertebrates, including crabs and other crustaceans, mollusks, jellyfish, and sea urchins. Fish, algae and seaweed also make up part of its diet.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Predators
The adult Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is a well-armored and relatively large species. However, it does fall prey to various sharks.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Conservation Status
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle’s conservation status is ‘Critically Endangered’. In the 1960s, the species was near extinction. Mexico began protecting the species during the 60’s. The US listed the species in the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1970.
The US and Mexico created a binational recovery plan in 1984, and the species has gradually been brought back from the brink.
Despite narrowly avoiding extinction, the species remains under severe threat. The main threats to the species are habitat loss caused by coastal development and fishing nets.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Interesting Facts
Unlike land turtles, sea turtles are unable to withdraw their heads into their shells.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Facts: Related Articles
- You can find out more about sea turtles on this page: Sea Turtle Facts
- Discover amazing turtle species from all around the world on this page: Types of Turtles
- Find out more about turtles on this page: Is a Turtle a Reptile... and Why?
- Visit this page to become a reptile expert: Reptiles - The Ultimate Guide
Discover other sea turtle species:
- Flatback Sea Turtle Facts
- Green Sea Turtle Facts
- Hawksbill Sea Turtle Facts
- Leatherback Sea Turtle Facts
- Loggerhead Sea Turtle Facts
- Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Facts
See pictures and facts about amazing animals from all around the world here: A to Z Animals