U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Homepage

a feeding Leatherback turtleLeatherback Sea Turtles in North Carolina


Dermochelys coriacea

STATUS: Endangered

DESCRIPTION: Largest of all turtles, the leatherback is recognized by its covering of ridged leathery skin rather than a hard shell. The back, head and neck are dark brown or black with a few white or yellow blotches. The lower shell is whitish and ridged. The flippers are paddlelike without claws. The average adult length is 61 inches; the average weight is 640 to 1300 pounds.

DISTRIBUTION: The leatherback is distributed world-wide but nowhere in large numbers. It is common in waters along the North Carolina coast during certain times of the year. The leatherback nests circum-globally, primarily in the tropics. Nesting in the United States occurs mainly in Florida, but nesting has also occured in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina (see Rabon et al, Marine Turtle Newsletter, 2003).

HABITAT AND CHARACTERISTICS: An open ocean species, it sometimes moves into shallow bays, estuaries and even river mouths. The preferred food is jellyfish. The diet also includes sea urchins, squid, shrimp, fish, blue-green algae and floating seaweed. The leatherback needs sandy nesting beaches backed with plants and sloped so that the crawl to dry sand is not too far. Nest size varies from 50 to 170 eggs. Incubation lasts from 53-74 days.

Species Distribution from known occurrences. Species may occur in similar habitats in other counties.Green counties indicate observed within 20 years. Yellow counties indicate an obscure data reference to the species in the county. Red counties indicate observed more than 20 years ago.

Species distribution of the Leatherback turtle in NC

Species Location Map based on information provided by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program.
For additional information regarding this Web page, contact David Rabon in Raleigh, NC at david_rabon@fws.gov

Visit the North Carolina ES Homepage
Visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Home Page

Keywords={same keywords listed above - used for search tools}