Leatherback Sea Turtle, Dermochelys coriacea

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Diagnostic Features

• Small head - takes up only 17 - 22.3% of carapace length.
• Beak is weak, but sharp edged, lacking crushing surfaces.
• Upper jaw has two pointed cusps in front.
• Lower jaw has a single central hook that fits in between those of the upper jaw.
• Carapace reduced and formed by a mosaic of small polygonal osteodermic pieces supported by a thick matrix of cartilagenous, oily dermal tissue.
• The carapace has 7 dorsal and 5 ventral keels.
• Flippers large and paddle shaped, in adults they often equal or exceed half the SCL
• Claws may be visible in hatchlings but disappear in subadults and adults.
• Colour:
o Dorsal side essentially black, with scattered white blotches.
o White blotches arranged along the keels and concentrate laterally.
o The underside of the turtle is whitish due to the number of white blotches.
o Many have pinkish blotches on the neck, groin,shoulders and head.
Leatherback sea turtle carapace illustration: M. Demma © ICRAM

Size and Body Mass

Leatherback Turtle
Dermochelys coriacea

Size (cm) and body mass (kg):
N.B. All figures are FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) unless otherwise stated.
Normal variation in Straight Carapace Length for mature females:
124.0 - 256.5 n=669 (n = number in sample)
131.6 is the mean length; n= 669

World variation: figures, unless stated, are for mature females

Mexico (Mexiquillo) 129.0-163.0, mean = 145.8, n=85
Costa Rica (Atlantic Coast) 134.6-172.7, mean = 152.1, n=76
Costa Rica (Pacific Coast) 128.0-151.0, mean = 141.0, n=18
Puerto Rico 153.0-160.0, mean = ? n=2
Trinidad 135.0-185.0, mean = 156.5, n=20
Colombia 140.0-170.0, mean = 155.6, n=7
Guyana 152.5-162.5, mean = 150.8, n=3
Surinam 143.3-164.5, mean = 153.8, n=16
Sri Lanka 147.0-165.0, mean = 155.9, n=4
Australia (Queensland) 150.5-174.5, mean = 162.4, n=9

Overall body mass in Kg:

World variation:
Costa Rica 258-506
Surinam 302-425
Senegal 200-250
India 272-365
Sri Lanka 301-448
The largest ever recorded leatherback turtle was over 200cm long and weighed 917.7 kg. It was found dead on a beach in Wales in 1988 and is now in the Welsh Museum in Cardiff.
The mass of an average sized leatherback turtle is comparable to a Citroen 2CV!

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