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Kemp's Ridley
Lepidochelys kempii
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Family: Cheloniidae
Genus: Lepidochelys
Species: L. kempii
Binomial name
Lepidochelys kempii
(Garman, 1880)
Lepidochelys kempii distribution.
Also see: Olive Ridley turtle.

Kemp's Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) is a critically endangered species of sea turtle. It is one of two living species in the genus Lepidochelys, the other one being L. olivacea, the Olive Ridley. It is also the rarest sea turtle.



Kemp's Ridley is the smallest living sea turtle species, reaching maturity at 2-3 feet long and averaging only 45 kilograms (100 lb).

It is typical of a sea turtle, having a dorso-ventrally depressed body with specially-adapted flipper-like front limbs. Like other sea turtles, it possesses a horny beak.


Kemp's Ridley sea turtles generally prefer warm waters but are known to inhabit the waters as far north as New Jersey,return to the Gulf of Mexico, and Florida where they are often found in the waters off Louisiana. 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 their eggs.

Ecology and life history


Habitat Ecology

The Kemp's Ridley turtle feeds on molluscs, crustaceans, jellyfish, algae or seaweed, and sea urchins. Juvenile turtles tend to live in floating sargassum seaweed beds for their first years.[1] Then they either spend their time in the NW Atlantic waters or the Gulf of Mexico (or somewhere in between) to grow into maturity.

Life history

Kemp's Ridley sea turtle changes color with its development. As hatchlings they are almost entirely a dark gray-black but when they become adults (the age of adulthood is debated, some say they reach maturity at the age of 7-15 but others claim that sexual maturity doesn't occur until the age of 35) they have a yellow-green or white plastron and a grey-green carapace.

The estimated number of nesting females in the year of 1947 was 89,000 but it dove to an estimated 1,000 by the mid 1980s.

The nesting season for these turtles is between April to August, though some nest as late as July or August. They nest mostly in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, but they sometimes nest on Padre Island in the U.S. state of Texas. The adult sea turtles mate offshore and then the females land in groups on the beachs in what is commonally called an arribada[1] or mass nesting, (they prefer areas with dunes followed by swamps). They are the only species of sea turtle known to lay their eggs during the day.

Females nest three times during a season with roughly 10 to 28 days between nestings. Incubation can take anywhere from 45 to 70 days. There are, on average, around 110 eggs per nesting. The sex of hatchlings is decided by the temperature in the area during incubation. If the temperature is below 29.5 degrees Celsius the offspring will be mainly male.

Etymology and taxonomic history

These turtles are called Kemp's Ridley because Richard Kemp (of Key West) was the first to send in a specimen of the species to Samuel Garman at Harvard. However, the etymology of the name "Ridley" itself is still in question. Prior to the term being popularly used (for both species in the genus), L. kempii at least was known as the "bastard turtle".[2]

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 that the name was coined by fishermen who witnessed the turtles dying after being turned-turtle on their backs. The turtles were said to have "died of a broken heart" by the fishermen, and thus the name.[3][4]


In the past their numbers were severely depleted through hunting, but today major threats include loss of habitat, pollution, and entanglement in fishing (shrimping) nets.

It was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act for the first time in the United States on December 2, 1970, and has received protection in Mexico since the 1960s. One of the suggested mechanisms to assist the population in its regrowth is the Turtle Excluder Device (TED). Due to the fact that the biggest hit to the population of Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles is shrimp trawls, this device is attached to the shrimp trawl. It is a grid of bars with an opening at the top or bottom. It is fitted into the neck of the shrimp trawl in a manner as to allow small animals to slip through the bars and be caught in the bag while larger animals such as sea turtles may strike the bars and be ejected through the opening thus avoiding possible drowning.

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 4 on Mustang Island. Wildlife officials released 10,594 Kemp's Ridley hatchlings along the Texas coast this year. The turtles are popular in Mexico as boot material and food.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Kemp's Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) - Office of Protected Resources - NOAA Fisheries". NOAA Fisheries. Retrieved 2009-05-11.  
  2. ^ Dundee, Harold A. (2001). "The Etymological Riddle of the Ridley Sea Turtle". Marine Turtle Newsletter 58: 10–12. Retrieved 2008-12-30.  
  3. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Help Endangered Animals - Ridley Turtles. Gulf Office of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. Retrieved 2009-01-05.  
  4. ^ Philips, Pamela (September 1988). The Great Ridley Rescue. Mountain Press. pp. 180. ISBN 0878422293.  
  5. ^, Endangered turtle nests found in Texas


  • Marine Turtle Specialist Group (1996). Lepidochelys kempii. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 9 May 2006. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is critically endangered and the criteria used
  • Sizemore, Evelyn (2002). The Turtle Lady: Ila Fox Loetscher of South Padre. Plano, Texas: Republic of Texas Press. p. 220. ISBN 1556228961.  

External links


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