Atlantic Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Eretmochelys imbricata imbricata

* Federal Endangered State Endangered *

Common Name:

Atlantic Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Scientific Name:

Eretmochelys imbricata imbricata



Eretmochelys is derived from the Greek word eretmon which means "oar" and chelys which means "tortoise". This refers to the oar like flippers.


imbricata is from the Latin word imbricatus which means "overlapping like shingles". This refers to the scutes on the carapace.

Average Length:

30 - 35 in. (76 - 89 cm), weight 95 - 165 lbs. (43 - 75 kg)

Virginia Record Length:

12 in. (31 cm), weight 8.8 lbs. (4 kg)

Record length:

36+ in. (90+ cm), weight 280 lbs. (127 kg)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The length of this species is 76-89 cm, with a weight from 43-75 kg. The coloration of the carapace is brown with black and amber highlights and is characterized as tortoise shell. The scutes of the carapace overlap. The plastron and underside of the limbs are yellow, the dorsum is made up of browns scales surrounded with yellow. The flippers have 2 claws, and the head is small with 2 pairs of prefrontal scales. There are 4 costal plates on both sides of the carapace *1046,1027,1026,10760*. Most scutes of the carapace are keeled and the vertebral scute closest to the head is triangular. Also, the posterior edge of the shell is jagged or serrated looking *10760*. Juveniles are black with the edge of the shell yellow *1046,1027,1026*. The plastron has two keels and is dark, getting lighter as the hatchling gets older. They are usually between 39-50 mm *10760*. Female and Male Turtles are essentially the same size but the male has a langer and more substantial tail. The plastron of the male is also somewhat concave *10760*.

REPRODUCTION: This species does not breed in Virginia waters. They nest exclusively on isolated beaches in the tropics *10760*. The incubation period is estimated to be 60 days and nesting occurs every 2 to 3 years, but more than once a season, at 2 week intervals. The clutch size is 150 to 160 eggs. Little other reliable data are available *1046,1027*. This species will nest on small islets and isolated mainland shores. The females may clamber over reefs, rocks or rubble to nest among the roots of trees and bushes on the chosen beach *8850*. They mate offshore *10760*.

BEHAVIOR: This species feeds on the bottom and close to shore. Turtles close their eyes when eating Portuguese men-of-war (to avoid the tentacles), which makes them an easy catch for hunters, though thier preferred food are sponges. They do not usually migrate out of the tropics but can occasionally be found as far north as Massachusetts. They nest on sandy tropical beaches, and mating is just off shore from these *1046,1027*. Migrations are poorly known but they probably nest at least twice during a given season at Tortuguero beach in Costa Rica then return to the foraging grounds. The internesting period may be more than two weeks, longer than that of any other sea turtle *8850*.

ORIGIN: The origin of this species is native *1046*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: They are mainly isolated to the tropics and are only accidentals in Virginia *10760*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: Feeds primarily on sponges. Is prey for numerous creatures as an egg or hatchling. Humans and sharks will depredate adults *10760*.

References for Life History

  • 1026 - Bustard, R., 1973, Sea turtles: Natural history and conservation, 22 pgs., Taplinger Publ., New York, NY
  • 1027 - Carr, A.F., 1952, Handbook of Turtles. Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California, 542 pgs., Comstock Publ. Assoc., Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY
  • 1046 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1980, Selected vertebrate endangered species of the sea coast of the United States: Hawksbill turtle, FWS/OBS-80/1.22, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Svc., Washington, DC
  • 8850 - Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 1985, A recovery plan for marine turtles. , 363 pgs., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, GA
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC


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Verified County/City Occurrence

Hampton City
Norfolk City
Verified in 2 Counties/Cities.


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