Overview

Brief Summary

Description

Kemp's ridley turtle is the most severely endangered marine turtle in the world; in the 1980s only a few hundred females were observed nesting, although the population is now showing signs of recovery (3). It is also one of the smallest turtles, with adults weighing less than 45 kilograms (4). Kemp's ridley turtle differs from the olive ridley by its parrot-like beak and flatter, almost completely round carapace (3). Hatchlings are grey-black all over, whilst adults have a lighter grey-olive carapace and are creamy-white underneath (4).
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Biology

Along with the olive ridley, Kemp's ridley turtle used to exhibit mass synchronised nestings known as 'arribadas' (Spanish for 'mass arrivals'), where thousands of females came ashore on the same beach to nest at the same time (2). Since the precipitous fall in population numbers however, these spectacular phenomena are now much smaller (3). The nesting season peaks in May and June and unusually amongst turtles, nesting occurs during the day (3). Females lay an average of two to three clutches during the breeding season, each clutch containing about 90 eggs, they return every year or two to nest (3). During 2004, a record 42 Kemp's ridley turtle nests were found on the Texas coast. Most were located in the southern part of the state, but some nests were found on the upper part of the Texas coast as well. In addition to the Texas nests, four others were found in the U.S. during 2004 in northwest Florida (7). Adults are carnivorous bottom-feeders, eating a wide range of prey including fish, jellyfish, although crabs are the mainstay of their diet (2).
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Comprehensive Description

Description

 The Kemp's Ridley is the smallest of the sea turtles, with the carapace (shell) rarely exceeding 74 cm long. The carapace of adult Kemp's Ridley is broad and light gray-olive in color. Head is large with strongly ridged and powerful jaws. The carapace usually has five pairs of scales (costal scutes).Populations of Kemp's Ridley are threatened with decline as a result of intensive predation on eggs by local people and by coyotes, fishing for juveniles and adults, slaughter of nesting adults for meat, and incidental catch by trawlers. Nesting grounds are also threatened through destruction by humans.
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Distribution

Kemp's Ridley Turtle is found mainly in the Gulf of Mexico. This species breeds in large nesting aggregations. At Rancho Nuevo, the primary nesting beach for this species in Tamaulipas, Mexico, 42,000 females came ashore to nest on a single day in 1947. By 1989, the number of females nesting on this beach had dropped to 545. Intensive conservation efforts in subsequent decades have been at least somewhat successful: the number of nesting females at Rancho Nuevo was well in excess of 2000 by 2003, with the population apparently continuing on a positive trajectory, and the total number of adult females present in the Gulf of Mexico was estimated to be around 5,000 in 2004. Adults are most often seen off southwestern Florida, much less commonly in the western Gulf. Juveniles range much more widely, to the eastern, western, and north Atlantic Ocean. Nearly all Kemp's Ridley nesting for the world population occurs at Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, but nesting has also been reported from beaches in Vera Cruz, Tabasco, and Campeche (Mexico); Colombia; Brevard, Lee, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Sarasota, and Volusia Counties in Florida (U.S.A.); Georgia (U.S.A.); and South Carolina (U.S.A.). Active efforts to establish nesting at several sites in south Texas (U.S.A.) have been successful. Hatchlings apparently spend the first two years of life drifting around the Gulf of Mexico in floating patches of Sargassum Weed (Ernst and Lovich 2009 and references therein).

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Geographic Range

Kemp’s Ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii) can be found from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to Bermuda. Nesting Ridleys are found mainly in the Gulf of Mexico. In migration, they follow two major routes: one heads north to the Mississippi coastline and the second extends southward to the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula at the Campeche Bank.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native ); atlantic ocean (Native )

  • Wilkinson, T. 2003. The riddle of ridley's.. National Parks, 77: 26-29.
  • Ernst, C., R. Barbour. 1972. Turtles of the United States. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky.
  • U.S. National Park Service, 2003. "Kemp's ridley nesting." (On-line). National Parks (Padre Island National Seashore). Accessed August 04, 2006 at http://www.nps.gov/pais/website/kemp's_ridley.htm.
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Non-breeding

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Global Range: Adults essentially are restricted to the Gulf of Mexico. Immatures inhabit the Gulf and also the U.S. Atlantic coast north to Long Island Sound (Morreale et al. 1992), New England, and Nova Scotia. Occasional individuals reach Bermuda, the Azores, and European waters (see USFWS 1992, 1998). Important foraging areas include Campeche Bay, Mexico, and Louisiana coastal waters (Ogren 1992). Cold-stunned juveniles frequently appear in late fall/early winter on beaches on northern Long Island, New York (e.g., see Burke et al. 1991, Morreale et al. 1992). Live ridleys occur in Chesapeake Bay mainly from May through November (Mitchell 1991).

There is a single major nesting beach, at Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico; 60 percent of nesting occurs along a 40-kilometer stretch of beach there (NMFS and USFWS 2007). In 2006, eggs were deposited in several hundred nests near Tampico, Mexico, and in about 100 nests in Texas (NMFS and USFWS 2007). Sporadic nesting has occurred as far north as North Carolina and south to Colombia (Palmatier 1993).

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Scotian Shelf to the Gulf of Maine and to Cape Hatteras through Florida
  • North-West Atlantic Ocean species (NWARMS)
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Continent: Middle-America South-America North-America Europe Africa
Distribution: Carribean Sea, Atlantic Ocean (EC/NE/NW/WC),  occasionally on the coasts of France, Spain, England (incl. Channel islands: Jersey), Italy, Portugal  Africa: Mauritania,  Americas: SE Mexico (Yucatan) Colombia [Castro,F. (pers. comm.)], USA and Canada (chiefly gulf of Mexico: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Atlantic coast as far north as New England and Nova Scotia: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine)  
Type locality: restricted to Key West, Florida (by SMITH & TAYLOR 1950).
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Historic Range:
Tropical and temperate seas in Atlantic Basin, incl. Gulf of Mexico

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Northern Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. North to Nova Scotia, south to Bermuda.
  • Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Lutz and Musick, 1997.
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Range

Kemp's ridley turtles have an extremely restricted range; found mainly in the Gulf of Mexico and some way up the eastern seaboard of the United States (3). The epicenter of nesting is a 20 kilometre beach at Rancho Nuevo in Northeast Mexico (2), with most nesting in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Nesting has also been documented in Veracruz and Campeche, Mexico, as well as in various U.S. states. Most U.S. nesting occurs in Texas, with nesting coastwide, but concentrated in the southern part of the state (7).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Lepidochelys kempii is the smallest species of sea turtle, measuring from 55 to 75 cm in length. Average length is 65 cm. Individuals weigh between 30 and 50 kg. The head and limbs (flippers) are non-retractile. The shell is streamlined, making this turtle extremely hyrdrodynamic. The carapace is a gray-olive color, whereas the plastron is an off-white to light yellow color.

Lepidochelys kempii has four limbs; two foreflippers and two hindflippers. The foreflippers power the turtle through the water while the hindflippers are used to steer and stabilize the turtle in the water. One to two claws are present on each foreflipper.

Ridleys have an upper eyelid for eye protection. As turtles, they lack teeth, and the jaw has a broad-beak shape. The external features of males and females do not differ until they reach maturity. Males are characterized by longer, thicker tails, and may have larger curved foreflippers.

Range mass: 30 to 50 kg.

Range length: 55 to 75 cm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes shaped differently

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Size

Length: 70 cm

Weight: 45000 grams

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70 cm
  • Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Lutz and Musick, 1997.
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Diagnostic Description

This species differs from the loggerhead in smaller size, lack of a reddish-brown dorsum, presence of an interanal scute, and presence of pored scutes on the bridge. It differs from the hawksbill and green turtles in having the first costal in contact with the nuchal. It differs from the Pacific ridley in having usually five costals on each side of the carapace rather than usually six or more.

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Ecology

Habitat

Belizean Coast Mangroves Habitat

This species is found in the Belizean coast mangroves ecoregion (part of the larger Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion), extending along the Caribbean Coast from Guatemala, and encompassing the mangrove habitat along the shores of the Bahía de Annatique; this ecoregion continues along the Belizean coast up to the border with Mexico. The Belizean coast mangroves ecoregion includes the mainland coastal fringe, but is separate from the distinct ecoregion known as the Belizean reef mangroves which are separated from the mainland. This ecoregion includes the Monterrico Reserve in Guatemala, the estuarine reaches of the Monkey River and the Placencia Peninsula. The ecoregion includes the Burdon Canal Nature Reserve in Belize City, which reach contains mangrove forests and provides habitat for a gamut of avian species and threatened crocodiles.

Pygmy or scrub mangrove forests are found in certain reaches of the Belizean mangroves. In these associations individual plants seldom surpass a height of 150 centimetres, except in circumstances where the mangroves grow on depressions filled with mangrove peat. Many of the shrub-trees are over forty years old. In these pygmy mangrove areas, nutrients appear to be limiting factors, although high salinity and high calcareous substrates may be instrumental. Chief disturbance factors are due to hurricanes and lightning strikes, both capable of causing substantial mangrove treefall. In many cases a pronounced gap is formed by lightning strikes, but such forest gaps actually engender higher sapling regrowth, due to elevated sunlight levels and slightly diminished salinity in the gaps.

Chief mangrove tree species found in this ecoregion are White Mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa), Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans); the Button Mangrove (Conocarpus erectus) is a related tree associate. Red mangrove tends to occupy the more seaward niches, while Black mangrove tends to occupy the more upland niches. Other plant associates occurring in this ecoregion are Dragonsblood Tree (Pterocarpus officinalis), Guiana-chestnut (Pachira aquatica) and Golden Leatherfern (Acrostichum aureum).

In addition to hydrological stabilisation leading to overall permanence of the shallow sea bottom, the Belizean coastal zone mangrove roots and seagrass blades provides abundant nutrients and shelter for a gamut of juvenile marine organisms. A notable marine mammal found in the shallow seas offshore is the threatened West Indian Manatee (Trichecus manatus), who subsists on the rich Turtle Grass (Thalassia hemprichii) stands found on the shallow sea floor.

Wood borers are generally more damaging to the mangroves than leaf herbivores. The most damaging leaf herbivores to the mangrove foliage are Lepidoptera larvae. Other prominent herbivores present in the ecoregion include the gasteropod Littorina angulifera and the Mangrove Tree Crab, Aratus pisonii.

Many avian species from further north winter in the Belizean coast mangroves, which boast availability of freshwater inflow during the dry season. Example bird species within or visiting this ecoregion include the Yucatan Parrot (Amazona xantholora), , Yucatan Jay (Cyanocorax yucatanicus), Black Catbird (Dumetella glabrirostris) and the Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulfuratus)

Upland fauna of the ecoregion include paca (Agouti paca), coatimundi (Nasua narica),  Baird’s Tapir (Tapirus bairdii), with Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta caraya) occurring in the riverine mangroves in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park. The Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata) can be observed along the mangrove fringes of the Monkey River mouth and other portions of this mangrove ecoregion.

Other aquatic reptiian species within the ecoregion include Morelet's Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletti), Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta), and Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempi).

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Comments: Habitat of adults primarily includes shallow coastal and estuarine waters, often over sandy or muddy bottoms where crab are numerous. Most adults stay in the Gulf of Mexico, and they are rare along the Atlantic coast of the northeastern United States. Apparently most activity is benthic. Post-hatchlings spend 1-4 years as surface pelagic drifters in weedlines of offshore currents in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, then shift to benthic coastal habitats of various types, especially where crabs and other invertebrates are numerous (CSTC 1990, NMFS and USFWS 2007).

Nesting occurs on well-defined elevated dune areas, especially on beaches backed up by large swamps or bodies of open water having seasonal, narrow ocean connections.

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in warm water
  • UNESCO-IOC Register of Marine Organisms
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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Terrestrial nest sites

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Lepidochelys kempii mainly stays near shallow coastal regions characterized by bays and lagoons. These turtles prefer waters that have sandy or muddy bottoms, but also may take to the open seas. At sea, this species has the ability to dive to great depths.

This species is rarely seen on shore, but it is not uncommon to see L. kempii floating in the water just offshore. Females come on shore to nest.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; saltwater or marine

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

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Depth range based on 737 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 332 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 2100
  Temperature range (°C): 3.547 - 27.461
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.071 - 19.394
  Salinity (PPS): 32.282 - 36.898
  Oxygen (ml/l): 3.098 - 6.764
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.038 - 1.293
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.756 - 18.598

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): 0 - 2100

Temperature range (°C): 3.547 - 27.461

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.071 - 19.394

Salinity (PPS): 32.282 - 36.898

Oxygen (ml/l): 3.098 - 6.764

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.038 - 1.293

Silicate (umol/l): 0.756 - 18.598
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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 Generally prefer shallow, inshore waters less than 60 meters deep.
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Shallow bays and coastal areas with sandy or muddy bottoms. Juveniles are pelagic.
  • Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Lutz and Musick, 1997.
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Adults inhabit crab-rich shallow inshore waters near the coast. Juveniles are also found in shallow waters, often where there are eelgrass beds and areas of sand, gravel and mud (2).
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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Most individuals move north or south from the major nesting beach at Rancho Nuevo and then settle in resident feeding areas for several months or more in various coastal locations in the Gulf of Mexico (see NMFS and USFWS 2007). An unknown percentage of the population migrates migrates up to thousands of kilometers between nesting beaches and Atlantic coastal feeding areas as far north as Long Island Sound, New York (Morreale et al. 1992; Morreale and Standora, no date), and beyond.

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Adults evidently are primarily benthic feeders that specialize on crabs; juveniles feed on sargassum, mollusks often associated with sargassum, and fishes and shrimps probably discarded by anglers (Shaver 1991). Spider crabs and rock crabs were important prey at Long Island, New York, where ridleys also consumed lady crabs, blue mussels, bay scallops, mud snails, marine plants, and debris (Burke et al. 1994; Copeia 1993:1176-1180). Recorded stomach contents also include shrimp, sea urchins, sea stars, and fishes.

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Food Habits

Lepidochelys kempii feeds on floating crabs, mollusks, shrimp, jellyfish and some vegetation. The jaws of these turtles are shaped for crushing and grinding.

Animal Foods: mollusks; aquatic crustaceans; cnidarians

Plant Foods: algae; macroalgae

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Crabs mostly, but they also will consume molluscs, shrimp, fish, and algae.
  • Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Lutz and Musick, 1997.
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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Sea turtles have no significant economic role. Eggs and turtles were harvested in the past for reasons outlined under "Predation", but the harvesting of turtles or their eggs is now illegal.

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Predation

Lepidochelys kempii is most vulnerable as a hatchling crawling from the nest to the shore. The slow-moving hatchlings make easy targets for herons, dogs, raccoons, and a variety of seabirds. The primary predatory threat to adults comes from sharks, especially the tiger sharks. Killer whales have also been known to consume sea turtles.

Human interference with nesting behavior may facilitate predation, and act as a barrier to this species. Lights around nesting areas confuses hatchlings about which way to crawl, sometimes causing them to crawl away from the water. Trash and noise can cause females to turn around from the nesting beach and back into the water, preventing deposition of eggs. The turtles are also hunted illegally to harvest meat. The shells can be made into combs and eyeglass frames. Eggs are also illegally collected because it is believed they have an aphrodisiac effect.

Known Predators:

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5

Comments: Despite occurrence of this species throughout the Gulf of Mexico and in much of the northern Atlantic, there remains only a single important nesting area.

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Global Abundance

10,000 - 100,000 individuals

Comments: Total number of nests for all beaches in Mexico in 2006 was estimated at 12,143, with another 100 in the United States (mainly Texas) (NMFS and USFWS 2007). This equates to more than 4,000 females. Given a nesting interval of about 2 years or a little less, the total number of adult females in 2006 was approximately 7,000-8,000.

In 2007, more than 4,000 females nested during a 3-day period at Rancho Nuevo.

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General Ecology

Predation on eggs (especially by coyote), hatchlings, and nesting adults sometimes has resulted in high mortality rates. Human predation on eggs and nesting adults formerly was an important mortality source; presently, drowning of adults in commercial fishing gear is more important. Egg survivorship (to hatching) was 0.59 in one study (see Iverson 1991).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

It is not known to what extent sea turtles communicate with one another. They make grunting noises which can be heard by other turtles, and apparently use these vocalizations to locate each other. Visual cues are probably important in identifying other members of their species, and some tactile communication undoubtedly occurs during mating. However, the bulk of communication in this species remains undescribed.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; magnetic

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Cyclicity

Comments: In northern estuaries, diving activity peaked at dusk and dawn (see Morreale and Standora, no date).

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Life Cycle

Development

Eggs are deposited on shore and incubate for an average of 55 days. Embryo development is temperature dependent. Lower nest temperatures tend to produce more males, whereas higher temperatures tend to produce more females.

Hatchlings uses a caruncle (temporary tooth) to break open the egg. After a hatchling escapes from the egg, it may take 3 to 7 days to crawl to the surface of the beach. Hatchlings emerge from the sand at night and immediately crawl towards the water. To locate the sea, hatchlings apparently orient themselves toward the greater light intensity reflected off the water. There may also be an internal magnetic compass that directs them to the water. After an individual hatchling enters the water, it goes into a “swim frenzy” for 24 to 48 hours. The hatchling swims into deeper water that protects it from predators.

The first year of life is spent away from shore. This year is dubbed the “lost year” because individuals in this age class are rarely seen near costal regions.

Lepidochelys kempii takes 11 to 35 years to reach maturity.

Development - Life Cycle: temperature sex determination

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Mortality for L. kempii is very high around the time of hatching. For individuals reaching adulthood, lifespan generally ranges from 30 to 50 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
30 to 50 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Observations: These animals have been kept in captivity for more than 20 years. Their longevity in the wild is unknown. Maturity in the wild may occur at later ages than in captivity (http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/neparc/).
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Reproduction

Individual adult females lay usually 3 clutches averaging about 95-100 eggs at intervals of 10-28 days, during daylight from April to July. Individual females nest at intervals of 1-4 years (most often 2 years). Large numbers of females may nest simultaneously on one beach. Eggs hatch in 45-58 days (see NMFS and USFWS 2007). Available information indicates that females begin nesting at an estimated age of 10-17 years (see NMFS and USFWS 2007). As is true of all sea turtles, this species has temperature-dependent sex determination.

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Individuals of this species spend most of their lives in isolation, generally coming into contact with conspecifics only to mate and to nest.

Mating takes place in the water. Males use their long curved flippers and claws to grip a female during mating.

Females swim to shore in a congregation  called a “arribada,” then nest on beaches near the Texas-Mexico border (Tamaulipas Mexico, Padre Island National Seashore). A female uses her foreflippers to dig a body pit  which is deep enough for her carapace to be level with the surrounding sand. She then uses her hindflippers to dig the cavity into which the eggs will be deposited. After the eggs are  deposited, the female fills in the egg cavity and body pit with her hindflippers and uses her plastron to erase markings of the nest.

The eggs are leathery and covered in mucus which protects them from breaking as they are laid. Females may spend two or more hours nesting.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Females nest every two to three years, and may lay between one and nine clutches per nesting season. Females lay between 50 and 200 eggs per clutch. The nesting season extends from April to  July.

Both males and females are reported to reach sexual maturity between the ages of 11 and 35 years.

Breeding interval: Females breed every two or three years, but can lay multiple clutches within a single breeding season.

Breeding season: The breeding season is from April to July.

Range number of offspring: 50 to 200.

Average gestation period: 55 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 11 to 35 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 11 to 35 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; oviparous

Average gestation period: 60 days.

Average number of offspring: 110.

Females invest energy in the production of eggs and the digging of the nest. However, after providing their eggs with some protection by burying them, females expend no further energy or effort in caring for their young. Young are independent from the time of hatching.

Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

  • Wilkinson, T. 2003. The riddle of ridley's.. National Parks, 77: 26-29.
  • U.S. National Park Service, 2003. "Kemp's ridley nesting." (On-line). National Parks (Padre Island National Seashore). Accessed August 04, 2006 at http://www.nps.gov/pais/website/kemp's_ridley.htm.
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These turtles nest during the day in a very limited area near Tamaulipas, Mexico. Hundreds to thousands of females emerge from the water to nest in large aggregations called arribadas. A female will have 1 or 2 clutches in a reproductive season, each with around110 eggs. It takes about an hour to complete the nesting process. A female reproduces approximately every 1.5 years. Hatchlings are 38-46 mm in length when they emerge.
  • Ernst and Barbour, 1989; Lutz and Musick, 1997.
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Source: Gulf of Maine Area Census of Marine Life

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Lepidochelys kempii

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There is 1 barcode sequence available from BOLD and GenBank.   Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.  Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.

TCTACCAACCATAAAGACATCGGCACCCTATACCTAATCTTCGGGGCATGAGCAGGAATAGTAGGCACAGCACTC---AGTCTATTAATCCGCGCAGAATTAAGCCAACCAGGTACTCTCCTAGGAGAT---GACCAAATTTATAACGTCATCGTCACAGCCCATGCTTTCATCATAATCTTCTTTATAGTTATACCAATCATAATTGGCGGCTTTGGAAACTGACTTGTTCCACTAATA---ATTGGAGCGCCAGATATAGCATTCCCACGTATAAACAACATAAGCTTTTGACTTCTACCTCCTTCACTATTACTACTTCTAGCATCATCAGGAATTGAAGCAGGCGCAGGTACAGGCTGAACAGTGTATCCCCCATTAGCTGGAAACCTAGCCCACGCCGGTGCTTCTGTAGACCTA---ACTATCTTCTCCCTCCATCTAGCCGGCGTATCTTCAATTTTAGGCGCTATCAACTTCATTACCACAGCAATCAATATAAAATCCCCTGCCATATCACAATACCAAACACCCTTATTTGTATGATCCGTACTAATTACAGCCGTCCTATTACTACTTTCGCTACCAGTACTTGCTGCA---GGTATTACTATACTACTTACAGATCGAAATCTAAATACAACCTTCTTTGATCCTTCAGGGGGAGGAGACCCAATCCTATACCAACACCTATTCTGATTCTTTGGACATCCTGAAGTATACATCCTAATCCTTCCAGGATTTGGTATGATCTCTCACATTGTTACCTATTATGCCGGAAAAAAA---GAACCATTCGGCTACATAGGAATAGTTTGAGCAATAATATCC
-- end --

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Lepidochelys kempii

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N1N - Critically Imperiled

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G1 - Critically Imperiled

Reasons: Range centered in Gulf of Mexico; only one major nesting area, along Gulf Coast of Tamaulipas, Mexico; population includes 7,000-8,000 adult females and is increasing; major threats include degradation of beach and coastal marine/estuarine habitats and mortality in commercial fisheries; vulnerable to oil spills.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Very narrow to narrow.

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
CR
Critically Endangered

Red List Criteria
A1ab

Version
2.3

Year Assessed
1996
  • Needs updating

Assessor/s
Marine Turtle Specialist Group

Reviewer/s

Contributor/s

Justification
Documentation about the rationale for listing, habitats, threats, etc. is not yet available.

History
  • 1994
    Endangered
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Endangered
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 12/02/1970
Lead Region:   Southwest Region (Region 2) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Lepidochelys kempii , see its USFWS Species Profile

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Lepidochelys kempii is currently listed as endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and IUCN.

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: critically endangered

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Status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2007. Listed on Appendix I of CITES (5), and Appendix I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (6).
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Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 70 to >90%

Comments: Annual number of nests at Rancho Nuevo increased significantly after the 1980s, from fewer than 1,000 to more than 4,000 by 2002 and 7,866 in 2006 (see NMFS and USFWS 2007).

Despite the recent increase, the trend over the past three generations (75 years, assuming average age of nesting female is 25 years) is a major decline (probably declined more than 90 percent).

Global Long Term Trend: Decline of >90%

Comments: Number of nesting females declined from possibly more than 42,000 in a single arribada in the 1940s to only around 234 (740 nests) by the mid-1980s to 7,000-8,000 in 2006 (NMFS and USFWS 2007). However, the 1940s population may have been an order of magnitude smaller (see NMFS and USFWS 2007).

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Public Domain

Supplier: Katja Schulz

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Threats

Degree of Threat: Very high - high

Comments: A major decline occurred with heavy harvest of eggs (and adults) prior to the mid-1960s, but now all main nesting areas have good protection. Present significant threats: beach and coastal development in areas away from the main nesting beach; various forms of coastal marine habitat degradation (e.g., bottom trawling and dredging of inshore and nearshore areas); mortality in shrimp nets and other fishing gear (this threat has been reduced to some degree through improved regulations); boat collisions; oil spills and exposure to other contaminants; and entanglement in and ingestion of marine debris (especially plastics) (Thompson 1990; CSTC 1990; USFWS 1992, 1998; NMFS and USFWS 2007). Threats to the main nesting beach in Mexico are presently few, but other areas in Mexico where nesting occurs are experiencing continued human population growth and increasing development pressure (USFWS 1992, 1998). Concentration of nesting in one area makes the species vulnerable to detrimental impacts of severe storms. The species' tendency to congregate in large numbers at breeding times increases vulnerability to disturbance. Climate change is a potential threats (could alter sex ratios; sea level rise and increased storm frequency could reduce nesting habitat).

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Kemp's ridley turtle suffered a dramatic decline during the 1950s - 60s, due mainly to the over harvesting of eggs, natural predation and mortality caused by trawl fisheries (4). Because nesting occurs in such large concentrations with shallow, poorly disguised nests, eggs are easily exploited by human collectors (by whom they are valued for their aphrodisiac properties) and by natural predators such as coyotes (3). Today the main threat to the survival of the species comes from shrimp trawlers which often operate in areas where turtles feed, turtles accidentally caught in nets (by-catch) drown to death and it is estimated that between 500 to 5,000 turtles are killed in this way each year (4).
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Management

Management Requirements: The recovery plan (USFWS 1992) summarizes management needs. Frazer (1992) emphasized the primary need for clean and productive marine and coastal environments; installation of turtle excluder devices in shrimp trawl nets and use of low pressure sodium lighting on beaches were suggested as appropriate sea turtle conservation technologies, whereas headstarting, captive breeding, and hatcheries were regarded as ineffective at best. Captive breeding was not regarded as a preferred management tool by CSTC (1990). See also Bjorndal (1982).

Reduction in trawl-related mortality, through the use of turtle excluder devices and seasonal fisheries closures and/or reduced tow times by shrimp trawlers, is regarded as a primary management need (Mitchell 1991, NMFS 1993, Lewison et al. 2003).

All nesting areas should be protected throughout the reproductive season (through hatchling emergence).

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Global Protection: None to few (0-3) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Comments: Most important nesting areas are adequately protected. Coastal feeding areas and migration corridors have some degree of protection through improved fishing regulations.

Needs: This species is in need of continued protective fishing regulations (e.g., use of Turtle Excluder Devices, restriction of tow times, fishing closures) in the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern U.S. Atlantic coast. Increased protection of Rancho Nuevo beach should be funded. Strict standards and limitations on any potentially polluting activity, including disposal of plastics at sea, should be insituted. Lagoonal/estuarine feeding habitats need protection. Sronger limitations on outer continental shelf drilling and oil tanker design and traffic should be imposed. Designated critical habitat should be expanded.

See recovery plan (USFWS 1992, 1998).

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Conservation

International trade in Kemp's ridley turtles and products is banned under their listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the main nesting beach has been declared a National Reserve since the 1970s (3). During the breeding season nests are protected by armed patrols and subsequently very little illegal trade occurs (2). Turtle Excluding Devices (TEDs) fitted to shrimp nets can help to prevent by-catch by allowing only shrimp-sized objects to enter the net (4). There has been an international drive to introduce these devices worldwide and shrimp trawlers operating in United States waters must now be fitted with TEDs (4). These conservation efforts have led to the slow recovery of Kemp's ridley turtle numbers and it has been suggested that a population goal of 10,000 nesting females could be reached by 2010 (2), allowing arribadas to once again adorn the Mexican coast.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: Eggs formerly were heavily exploited.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There is no known direct economic importance for humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

As a result of illegal harvesting, sea turtle meat may be eaten, and shells be made into combs or eyeglass frames. The eggs of L. kempii are believed to have an aphrodisiac effect.

Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material; source of medicine or drug

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Wikipedia

Kemp's ridley sea turtle

Computed tomography-based model of a Lepidochelys kempii skull, with selected muscles highlighted.

Kemp's ridley sea turtle[1] (Lepidochelys kempii), or Atlantic ridley sea turtle is the rarest sea turtle and is critically endangered. It is one of two living species in the genus Lepidochelys (the other one being L. olivacea, the olive ridley sea turtle).

Anatomy[edit]

Kemp's ridley is a small sea turtle species, reaching maturity at 60–90 cm (24–35 in) long and averaging only 45 kg (99 lb). Typical of sea turtles, it has a dorsoventrally depressed body with specially adapted flipper-like front limbs and a beak. The Kemp's ridley turtle is the smallest of the sea turtles, with adults reaching about 2 feet in length and weighing up to 100 pounds. The adult Kemp's ridley has an oval carapace that is almost as wide as it is long and is usually olive-gray in color. The carapace has five pairs of costal scutes. In each bridge adjoining the plastron to the carapace, there are four inframarginal scutes, each of which is perforated by a pore. The head has two pairs of prefrontal scales. Hatchlings are black on both sides. The Kemp's ridley has a triangular-shaped head with a somewhat hooked beak with large crushing surfaces. This turtle is a shallow water benthic feeder with a diet consisting primarily of crabs.

Distribution[edit]

Lepidochelys kempii distribution

Kemp's ridley sea turtles generally prefer warm waters but inhabit waters as far north as New Jersey, They migrate to the Gulf of Mexico, and Florida where they often inhabit the waters off Louisiana.[citation needed]

Their range includes the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Almost all females return each year to a single beach—Rancho Nuevo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas—to lay eggs. Some travel as far away as the coast of Ireland.

Feeding and life history[edit]

Feeding[edit]

The Kemp's ridley turtle feeds on mollusks, crustaceans, jellyfish, fish, algae or seaweed, and sea urchins.

Life history[edit]

Juvenile turtles tend to live in floating sargassum seaweed beds for their first years.[2] Then they range between northwest Atlantic waters and the Gulf of Mexico while growing into maturity.

These turtles change color as they mature. As hatchlings, they are almost entirely a dark gray-black, but mature adults have a yellow-green or white plastron and a grey-green carapace. They reach sexual maturity at the age of 10-12. [3]

The nesting season for these turtles is April to August. They nest mostly on a 16 mile beach in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, but sometimes on Padre Island in the US state of Texas, and elsewhere on the Gulf coast. They mate offshore. Gravid females land in groups on beaches in what is commonly called an arribada[2] or mass nesting. They prefer areas with dunes or, secondarily, swamps. The estimated number of nesting females in 1947 was 89,000, but shrank to an estimated 7,702 by 1985.[4]

Females nest 2-3 times during a season, keeping 10 to 28 days between nestings. Incubation takes 45 to 70 days. There are, on average, around 110 eggs in a clutch. The hatchlings' sex is decided by the temperature in the area during incubation. If the temperature is below 29.5°C, the offspring will be mainly male.

Etymology and taxonomic history[edit]

These turtles are called Kemp's ridley because Richard Kemp (of Key West) was the first to send a specimen to Samuel Garman at Harvard. However, the etymology of the name "ridley" itself is unknown. Prior to the term being popularly used (for both species in the genus), L. kempii at least was known as the "turtle".[5]

At least one source also refers to the Kemp's ridley as a "heartbreak turtle". In her book The Great Ridley Rescue, Pamela Philips claimed the name was coined by fishermen who witnessed the turtles dying after being "turned turtle" (on their backs). The fishermen said the turtles "died of a broken heart".[6][7]

Conservation[edit]

Biologists collecting Kemp's ridley sea turtle's eggs to transport them to the Kennedy Space Center for hatching

Hunting first depleted their numbers, but today major threats include habitat loss, pollution, and entanglement in shrimping nets.

Mexico first protected Kemp's ridleys in the 1960s. In the United States, the Kemp's ridley turtle was first listed under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1970[8] on December 2, 1970, and subsequently under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. A binational recovery plan was developed in 1984, and revised in 1992. A draft public review draft of the second revision was published by NOAA Fisheries in March 2010.[9] This revision includes an updated threat assessment.[10]

One mechanism used to protect turtles from fishing nets is the turtle excluder device (TED). Because the biggest danger to the population of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles is shrimp trawls, the device is attached to the shrimp trawl. It is a grid of bars with an opening at the top or bottom, fitted into the neck of the shrimp trawl. It allows small animals to slip through the bars and be caught while larger animals, such as sea turtles, strike the bars and are ejected, thus avoiding possible drowning.

Kemp's ridley nests found on the Texas coast 1985-2013

In September 2007, Corpus Christi, Texas, wildlife officials found a record of 128 Kemp's ridley sea turtle nests on Texas beaches, including 81 on North Padre Island (Padre Island National Seashore) and four on Mustang Island. The figure was exceeded in each of the following 7 years (see graph to 2013, provisional figures for 2014 as at July, 118.[11]). Wildlife officials released 10,594 Kemp's ridley hatchlings along the Texas coast that year. The turtles are popular in Mexico, as boot material and food.[12]

Oil spills[edit]

Some Kemp's ridleys were airlifted from Mexico after the 1979 blowout of the Ixtoc 1 rig, which spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Since April 30, 2010, 10 days after the accident on the Deepwater Horizon, 156 sea turtle deaths were recorded; most were Kemp’s ridleys.[citation needed] Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists and enforcement agents rescued Kemp's ridleys in Grand Isle.[13][citation needed] "Most" of the 456 oiled turtles that were rescued, cleaned and released by US Fish and Wildlife Service were Kemp's ridleys.[14]

Of the endangered marine species frequenting Gulf waters, only the Kemp’s ridley relies on the region as its sole breeding ground.[15]

As part of the effort to save the species from some of the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientists took nests and incubated them elsewhere. Sixty-seven eggs were collected from a nest along the Florida Panhandle on June 26, 2010, and brought to a temperature-controlled warehouse at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where 56 hatched,[citation needed] 22 were released on 11 July 2010.[16]

The overall plan was to collect about 700 sea turtle nests, incubate and release the young on beaches across Alabama and Florida over a period of months.[16][17] Eventually 278 nests were collected including only a few Kemp' ridley nests.[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Turtles of the World: Annotated Checklist of Taxonomy and Synonymy, December 2010, page 000.94
  2. ^ a b "Kemp's Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) - Office of Protected Resources - NOAA Fisheries". NOAA Fisheries. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  3. ^ USA. "Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles, Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Pictures, Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Facts". National Geographic. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ Dundee, Harold A. (2001). "The Etymological Riddle of the Ridley Sea Turtle". Marine Turtle Newsletter 58: 10–12. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  6. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Help Endangered Animals - Ridley Turtles. Gulf Office of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. Retrieved 2009-01-05. [dead link]
  7. ^ Philips, Pamela (September 1988). The Great Ridley Rescue. Mountain Press. p. 180. ISBN 0-87842-229-3. 
  8. ^ "Endangered Species Act (ESA) :: NOAA Fisheries". Nmfs.noaa.gov. 2013-08-08. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  9. ^ Draft Kemp's Ridley Recovery Plan, 2010
  10. ^ 2010 Threats Assessment, NOAA Fisheries
  11. ^ http://www.nps.gov/pais/naturescience/current-season.htm
  12. ^ Yahoo.com, Endangered turtle nests found in Texas
  13. ^ photo on Greenpeace USA Flickr via Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries[dead link]
  14. ^ http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/06/01/nesting-turtles-clues-oil-spills-impact/
  15. ^ Kaufman, Leslie (May 18, 2010). "Gulf Oil Again Imperils Sea Turtle". The New York Times. 
  16. ^ a b http://www.space.com/8778-nasa-rescues-baby-sea-turtles-threatened-gulf-oil-spill.html
  17. ^ [2], centurylink.net, July 15, 2010[dead link]
  18. ^ http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/09/nasas_turtle_egg_rescue_from_g.html

Bibliography[edit]

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: MtDNA data indicate that L. kempii is phylogenetically distinct from L. olivacea (Bowen et al. 1991).

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