Quick! Can you name the world’s largest reptile? Hint: In the Chesapeake, it is most commonly sighted in Virginia’s warmer waters, but individuals have been found as far north as Mobjack Bay and the Severn River. Did you guess the Atlantic Leatherback turtle? While sea turtles aren’t common in the Bay, several species have visited and some are spotted almost every summer. Can you match up these sea turtles with their descriptions?
1. Atlantic Leatherback
2. Atlantic Loggerhead
3. Atlantic Green Turtle
4. Atlantic Hawksbill
5. Kemp’s Ridley
A. This is the smallest sea turtle; the ones found in the Bay usually weigh less than 30 pounds. It eats benthic (bottom-dwelling) animals such as crustaceans and mollusks. In the Bay, it feasts almost entirely on blue crabs. It is estimated that hundreds of this turtle species visit the Chesapeake each year. Nest robbing, the massacre of nesting females for their flesh, and shrimp nets (which can capture and drown sea turtles) have made this creature one of the world’s most endangered sea turtle species.
B. This turtle is a tropical species, that once it is an adult, rarely—if ever—ventures as far north as the Chesapeake. The one or two that are sighted in Virginia waters during the summer are almost always juveniles. These turtles take to the sea upon hatching and may travel 2,000–3,000 miles before they are fully mature. At that point, they are able to return to the exact beach where they were born.
C.This species is extremely rare in Chesapeake waters — the sole visitor is known only from a shell with the notation, “Chesapeake Bay” that is owned by the Natural History Society of Maryland. This turtle is the source of “tortoiseshell.” It has also been hunted for its eggs and its flesh, even though the latter is sometimes poisonous, a result of the turtle’s diet, which includes toxic sponges.
D. Unlike other sea turtles, whose shells consist of horny scutes (bony scales), this animal is covered with smooth, leathery skin. It feeds mainly on jellyfish and is able to swallow its prey with the aid of backward-projecting spines in its mouth and throat.
E. This turtle’s diet consists of such creatures as jellyfish, sponges, squids, fish, barnacles and sea grasses, but once in the Chesapeake, it feasts mostly on horseshoe crabs. It is the most common sea turtle in Bay waters. Development has already destroyed or threatens many of this turtle’s nesting habitat along the U.S. East Coast.
To learn more about these creatures, check out “The Sea Turtles of Virginia” by J.A. Musick. Copies are available for $2 each from Sea Grant Communications Office, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, P.O. Box 1346, Gloucester Point, VA 23062
Solution: 1-D 2-E 3-B 4-C 5-A