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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Olive Ridley Sea Turtle - Lepidochelys olivacea

(Eschscholtz, 1829)
Click on a picture for a larger view




Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Sightings

Red: Locations where Olive Ridley Sea Turtles
have been seen in California



observation link





Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
Aquarium captive adult from the Pacific Ocean
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Pacific Ocean
Aquarium captive from the Pacific Ocean Aquarium captive adult from the Pacific Ocean © William Flaxington
Habitat in California, the Pacific Ocean
     
Marin County Sighting 2002
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Habitat
Adult Olive Ridley on Shell Beach, Marin County 2002. © Reuven Walder Shell Beach, Marin County
Olive Ridleys show up rarely along the Californa coast, but one appeared on Shell beach in Tamales Bay, Marin County, in November of 2002. Reuven Walder, a biologist with the sea turtle protection organization Turtle Island Restoration Network, just happened to be vacationing there with his family when the turtle appeared. They watched as it swam in the water than hauled out onto the beach, something Olive Ridleys almost never do except to nest. It probably needed to warm up since it was farther north than usual in colder waters. Walder was able to identify the turtle and take some pictures, including the one above.
(Talk about being in the right place at the right time!)

You can read more about this sighting here, along with an account of another turtle that was pulled up entangled in the fishing line of a sport fishing boat a half mile off the Marin County coast in October 2001. Unlike many Olive Ridleys found north of their optimal range, which are typically dead stranded turtles, both of these were alive and healthy.
 
Short Video
 
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
 
An Olive Ridley swims around in a large aquarium.
 
Description
 
Size
The smallest (and most numerous) sea turtle in the world. Adults are 20 - 29 inches in shell length (51 - 74 cm) 0 - 100+ lbs. (Stebbins 2003)

Appearance
A small sea turtle with a round, flat carapace and a large, triangular head.
Color and Pattern
The carapace is olive to grayish green.
The skin is gray, and the plastron is light greenish yellow or whitish.
There are two pairs of prefrontals, and usually 5 - 9 costal shields on the sides, the first pair coming into contact with the nuchal.
Male / Female Differences
Males have longer thicker tails than females and well-developed curved claws on the forelimbs.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Little is known about Olive Ridley behavior other than nesting behavior.
They undertake long migrations to and from nesting beaches.
Large numbers are sometimes seen basking at the surface.
Diet and Feeding
Mostly carnivorous. Eats mollusks, crustaceans, jellyfish, sea urchins, crab, fish, sea urchins, snails, jellyfish, and occasional plant material - algae, seagrass, and seaweed.
Breeding
Olive Ridleys found in our area derive from eggs laid from May through January from Costa Rica to Baja California. Nesting occurs in some part of its range in almost every month of the year.

Olive Ridleys nest together in synchronized mass nesting called "arribadas" which may consist of thousands of females nesting at the same time. From 20,000 to 200,000 females may visit a nesting beach in one season. Tropical beaches and barrier islands, often near river mouths, are preferred.

Many females reproduce every year, but some nest every 2 - 3 years, usually from 1 - 2 times per season, every 14 - 30 days.

Nesting occurs mostly at night, but diurnal nesting also occurs. A female crawls onto the nesting beach, scoops a body pit, then digs a nest and lays a clutch of 30 - 170 eggs, which she covers with sand before crawling back into the ocean. The whole procedure takes less than an hour. Nests are robbed by a variety of predators including humans, pigs, opossums, racoons, coyotes, coatimundi, caimans, and snakes. The eggs hatch in 45 - 70 days depending on the weather and temperature. Hatchlings emerge and begin a frantic race to the sea, chased by predators such as crabs, vultures, and seabirds. Once they reach the water they are still in danger from predators such as sharks, fish, and crocodiles.

Geographical Range
Found in tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, including Arabia, Japan, Micronesia, off the west coast of Africa, the north and east coasts of South America, occasionally in the Caribbean, from Chile north to the Gulf of California, occasionally straying as far north as Oregon and possibly Alaska during warm-water El Niño years.

One was found on the Oregon coast in 2015.


Olive Ridleys in California Waters

Sea turtles can show up almost anywhere on the coast of California, but most sightings are not documented. The locations mentioned here only represent a small percentage of sightings. Locations where Olive Ridleys have been seen in California waters include Point Loma, La Jolla, and Encinitas in San Diego County, near Noyo in Mendocino County, near Table Bluff in Humboldt County, Stinson Beach, 2009,  Tamales Bay, 2002, 1/2 mile off the Marin County Coast, 2001, near Las Animas Canyon in Santa Barbara Count, Point Piedras Blancas in San Luis Obispo County, and San Gregorio State Beach in San Mateo County.

Full Species Range Map
Click Map to Enlarge
Habitat
Marine. Found well out to sea and in protected, relatively shallow bays and lagoons and the shallow water between reefs and the shore.

Notes on Taxonomy
No subspecies are recognized.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Lepidochelys olivacea - Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Lepidochelys olivacea - Pacific Ridley (Stebbins 1966, 2003)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Endangered.

Although it is the most numerous species of sea turtles, Olive Ridley populations are declining. Nesting no longer occurs on some formerly heavily-used beaches. Eggs and turtle flesh are eaten by humans and the hide is used for leather, with turtles often slaughtered on or offshore of the nesting beaches during the nesting season, contributing to a decline in reproduction.

Other causes for the decline of sea turtles include the development and degradation of nesting beaches, degradation of feeding habitats, entanglement of turtles in fishing nets, including discarded nets, and ingestion of plastic garbage, especially plastic grocery bags (which look like jellyfish floating on the surface) and offshore boats moving so quickly that turtles are not able to move out of the way fast enought to avoid being killed or injured. Some authorities also question whether humans handling nesting females and doing research on nesting beaches is stressing the turtles and lowering reproduction and survivorship.
Taxonomy
Family Cheloniidae Sea Turtles Oppel, 1811
Genus Lepidochelys Ridley Sea Turtles Fitzinger, 1843
Species

olivacea Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Eschscholtz, 1829)
Original Description
Lepidochelys olivacea - (Eschscholtz, 1829) - Zool. Atlas, Pt. 1, p. 2, pl. 3

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Lepidochelys - Greek - lepido - scaled, and chelys - turtle
olivacea
- Latin - olive olive green, and -acea - having the nature or color of - probbly refers to the color

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
Olive Ridley
Pacific Ridley

Related or Similar California Turtles
C. caretta - Loggerhead Sea Turtle

C. mydas - Green Sea Turtle

E. i. bissa - Pacific Hawksbill Sea Turtle

D. coriacea - Leatherback Sea Turtle

More Information and References
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

NMFS


Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Turtles and Lizards of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Carr, Archie. Handbook of Turtles: The Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Cornell University Press, 1969.

Ernst, Carl H., Roger W. Barbour, & Jeffrey E. Lovich. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution 1994. (2nd Edition published 2009)

Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.

Range and Nesting Information has been adapted from a number of sources, including:

Sea Turtle Conservancy

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Wickipedia

Witherington, Blair E. Sea Turtles: An Extroardinary Natural History of Some Uncommon Turtles. Voyageur Press, 2006.

Spotila, James R. Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation. The Johns Hopkins University Press and Oakwood Arts, 2004.

Perrine, Doug. Sea Turtles of the World. Voyageur Press, Inc., 2003.

Arnold, E. Nicholas, and Denys W. Ovenden. Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe. Princeton University Press and Oxford, 2002.

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


This turtle is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California, however it is endangered worldwide.


Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) FT - 7/28/78 Threatened
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN


 

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