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Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network - Réseau Canadien de 
Conservation des Amphibiens et des Reptiles

Lepidochelys kempi
Kemp's Ridley Turtle / Tortue bâtarde


Kemp's Ridley
© Tricia Kimmel, Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Description
The Kemp's Ridley Turtle is the smallest sea turtle found in Canadian waters, reaching a maximum of 75 cm carapace length. The greyish-green carapace is broader than long, especially in adults. It can be distinguished by the 3-5 raised knobs along the back and serrations along the back edge of the carapace. The plastron is pure white. The paddle-like limbs are grey and the males have a long curved claw on each forelimb and a long prehensile tail.

Confusing Species
The Kemp's Ridley Turtle is similar to the other hard-shelled sea turtles but is smaller than either the Loggerhead Turtle or the Green Turtle. Neither of these turtles have the raised knobs along the back although the Loggerhead has a keel. The shape of the carapace also differs.

Distribution
The Kemp's Ridley is an Atlantic sea turtle.Although adults rarely venture out of the Gulf of Mexico, juveniles are occasionally seen along the coast of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in the summer.

Habitat
This sea turtle prefers relatively shallow water (less than 50 m deep) compared with other species. Juveniles hide and feed in large mats of algae or sea-grass. The preferred nesting area is a beach of white sand on the seaward side of an elevated dune where the tides are relatively small.

Reproduction
Individuals probably take 10-12 years to reach sexual maturity. Most nesting occurs along an 18 km stretch of beach in the Gulf of Mexico. Females nest every 1-3 years. Several clutches of up to 185 eggs are laid from April to July. Most females will emerge from the water to nest on the same night. Sex determination is temperature-dependent. Unlike other species of sea turtles, hatchlings may emerge during any kind of weather and not all hatchlings from a nest emerge at the same time. The young turtles are 4-5 cm in length.

Natural History
Very little is known about this elusive sea turtle. Kemp's Ridleys feed primarily on crustaceans such as crabs and molluscs. Juveniles are occasionally stranded on beaches apparently after being stunned by an influx of cold water. One tagged female moved over 5000 km from the Gulf of Mexico to the coast of Colombia.

Conservation Concerns
The Kemp's Ridley has declined dramatically during the last 50 years and is considered the most endangered species of sea turtle. The initial cause of their decline was egg collecting which has been substantially reduced, but adults are also drowned in fishing gear. The most serious threat is disruption of their nesting beaches.