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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California





Comparison of California Sea Turtles

 






Back to California Sea Turtle Identification Key



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Leatherback Sea Turtle -
Dermochelys coriacea
Green Sea Turtle -
Chelonia mydas


Pacific Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Eretmochelys imbricata bissa
Loggerhead Sea Turtle -
Caretta caretta
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle -
Lepidochelys olivacea
The Leatherback's huge size, smooth leathery skin, and shell with 7 prominent lengthwise dorsal ridges, or keels, and no visible scutes, differentiate it from any other sea turtle.

This is probably the most commonly-seen sea turtle in California waters.

These pictures show an Atlantic Hawksbill, but there is no difference in appearance for our purposes.
The largest sea turtle with a hard shell.
The smallest sea turtle.
turtle turtle© Carlos Rodriguez Munoz turtle© William Flaxington
turtle turtle turtle turtle turtle
Dorsal ridges. The head is not as broad as that of the Loggerhead.
Long raptor-like snout
Head is very broad.
The shell is high in front.
The head is not as broad as that of the Loggerhead.
  turtle turtle turtle turtle
  One pair of pre-frontals
Two pairs of pre-frontals
Two pairs of pre-frontals Two pairs of pre-frontals
  turtle turtle turtle© Carlos Rodriguez Munoz turtle© William Flaxington
 
Four costal shields on each side.
The first shield does not touch the nuchal.
Four costal shields on each side
5 or more costal shields on each side.
The first shield touches the nuchal.
5 - 9 costal shields on each side.
The first shield touches the nuchal.
 
turtle
turtle
turtle
© Carlos Rodriguez Munoz
turtle
© William Flaxington
 
Adult shell is plain greenish, olive, or brown.
Marbled radiating pattern on the shell.
The edge of the shell is serrated and the shields overlap like shingles.
The posterior rim of the shell is serrated.
Shell is olive to gray in color, and smooth on adults.
  turtle      
 
Younger turtles have a mottled or radiating pattern on the shell, somewhat similar to the Hawksbill.



     

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