Creature Feature: Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Photo by Chris Ng, taken in El Nido

The hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is one of the two species of sea turtle usually seen in El Nido (the other is the green sea turtle). It gets its name from its distinctive tapered jaw that looks like a hawk’s beak. The hawksbill’s pointed beak comes in handy for rooting around in the crevices of coral reefs for sponges (its primary food as an adult) and other invertebrates.

Adult hawksbill sea turtles measure 65-90 cm along the carapace and weigh between 45-70 kg (not very big compared to other sea turtles) but they can grow as large as 90 kg. Aside from the beak, you can identify a hawksbill sea turtle based on its carapace (the top shell). The carapace is dark to golden brown with streaks of orange, red, and/or black, with overlapping scutes (thick bony plates) that create the jagged edge unique to hawksbills. Hawksbills also have a pair of claws on each flipper, with males having longer claws that are used to hang on to the female during mating. If you’re close enough, you can also spot the two pairs of prefrontal scales (scales on the top of the head before the eyes).

Hawksbill Sea Turtle/ Carey de Concha
Photo by US Fish & Wildlife Service (via Flickr)

Because sponges are their favorite food, hawksbill sea turtles are mostly found in coral reef areas. They are distributed worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters (between 30° North and 30° South) in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. There are no hawksbills in the Mediterranean Sea.

National Geographic. Hawksbill sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtle pictures, hawksbill sea turtle facts
NOAA Fisheries, Office of Protected Resources. Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
US Fish & Wildlife Service, North Florida Ecological Services Office. Hawksbill sea turtle Fact Sheet

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