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Kemp’s ridley sea turtle

Fact File

Scientific Name: Lepidochelys kempii

Classification: Reptilia, Order Testudines, Family Cheloniidae

Conservation Status:

  • Federally Endangered in the U.S.

Size: 21-29 inches

Life Span: 30-50 years

Diet: This species eats mainly crabs. It feeds on shallow water benthic invertebrates, with a preference for crustaceans. It also consumes small mollusks such as snails or clams. On the nesting grounds, the diet changes to more active prey such as squid, jellyfish or fish, with some vegetation.

Distribution: The Kemp’s ridley is found along Virginia’s Atlantic coast and throughout the Chesapeake Bay from the Potomac river south. This species is nests on dunes, islands, sandy reefs, atolls and lagoons. Neither berm nor dune vegetation appears to hinder them. On the Atlantic coast, this species appears to be both oceanic and estuarine and adult turtles are rarely found.

Identifying Characteristics

This is the smallest of the sea turtles. The beak is parrot-like and the color ranges from light gray to grayish-brown or even an olive green. The plastron is white or yellowish. The adult male’s tail extends beyond the rear edge of the shell while the adult female’s tail barely extends beyond this edge. The weight of this species is 35-49 kg and the length 56-79 cm. The carapace is heart-shaped and keeled. The hatchlings are all black. Hatchlings measure 38-46 mm carapace length and weigh 13.5-21.0 grams. Breeding does not occur in Virginia. With few exceptions, breeding occurs only on 24 km of beach in Tamaulipas, Mexico. In that area the breeding season is from April-June. There is 1 breeding season per year and the females nest 3 times per season. There are 110 eggs per clutch. A sand beach in which the back berm and foredunes are well above high tide levels is necessary for egg laying. The incubation period is from 45-70 days.


Klug, Z. 2006. “Lepidochelys kempii” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 15, 2023 at

NPS Staff (Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery) 2009 Kemp’s ridley sea turtle project at Padre Island National Seashore.

U.S. National Park Service. Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), Padre Island National Seashore, 2015.

Updated 2023 : Mara Snyder

Last updated: August 15, 2023