Discover Maryland's Herps

Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)

Family Cheloniidae

Kemp’s Ridley Seaturtle
Lepidochelys kempii

Photo of Kemp's Ridley Seaturtle Nesting, courtesy of National Park Service
Photo of Kemp's Ridley Seaturtle Nesting,
courtesy of National Park Service


23 - 27 inches. Record - 29 inches.


  • Our smallest sea turtle.
  • A heart-shaped carapace (top shell) which is smooth and olive green, grey or black, with serrations along the rear margin.
  • Head and flippers are grey or olive.
  • The plastron (bottom shell) is white.
  • Five costal scutes on each side of the carapace.
  • The first costal scute touches the nuchal scute. Bridge scutes have pores.
  • Habitats

    Marine waters of the Chesapeake Bay, coastal bays, near shore and the continental shelf (< 150 feet deep). Often associated with eelgrass meadows. No nesting occurs at our latitude (most nesting is at Tamaulipas, Mexico). Most of our turtles are juveniles. During the summer months, the lower Chesapeake Bay has the highest concentrations of juvenile Ridleys in the world.

    How to Find

    Juveniles may be observed in the Chesapeake and coastal bays in shoal areas with eelgrass beds close to shore, feeding on blue crabs. They can also be found loafing/basking for long periods on the surface, however they maintain a low profile with the carapace mostly submerged. Look for them from May to November. State and federally listed as Endangered. If you find or observe any individuals, please contact DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Service.

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    Maryland Amphibian
    and Reptile Atlas Project

    "A Joint Project of the Natural History Society of Maryland, Inc. and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources"

    For monthly newsletters of the Maryland Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project click on Recent Newsletters and scroll down to the MARA Newsletters.

    The Maryland Herpetology Field Guide is a cooperative effort of the MD Natural Heritage Program and the MD Biological Stream Survey within the Department of Natural Resources and their partners. We wish to thank all who contributed field records, text, and photographs, as well as support throughout its development.