Sea Turtle Identification
If you see a turtle on the beach you may want to know what kind of turtle you found. There are five species of sea turtles that visit the Outer Banks: Loggerhead – most common, Green – common especially as juveniles, Kemp’s Ridley – common as juveniles, Hawksbill – very rare, Leatherback – uncommon especially nearshore. If you see a turtle on the beach most likely it is a Loggerhead.
Four of the species above have a hard outer shell with either 4 or 5 visible shells plates or lateral scutes on their back.
If you find five lateral scutes the turtle is either a Loggerhead or a Kemps Ridley
Loggerhead at a glance
- Has an egg shaped shell
- Tan/blonde skin hue
- Has a proportionally large head
- Stranded turtles tend to be > 55 cm in length
Kemp’s Ridley at a glance
- Has a round shaped shell (length and width are similar)
- Dull grayish/green/brown shell
- Stranded turtles tend to be < 55 cm in length
Green and hawksbill turtles have 4 lateral scutes
Greens at a glance
- Shell varies in browns, and appears marbled with sunburst rays in each scute.
- Scutes do not overlap.
- Underside is creamy white
- Have flat face and serrated lower jaw.
Hawksbill at a glance
- Shell is yellowish brown with a marbled tortoise-shell pattern. Scutes appear ragged.
- Scutes overlap
- Heads are slender with bird-like beak.
The only sea turtle found on the Outer Banks that does not have a hard shell with scutes is the Leatherback as shown below.