Biology

Like other sea turtles, female Dermochelys coriacea, nest by hauling themselves onto tropical beaches at night and digging nest chambers.

The leatherback may lay and cover somewhere between 50 and 70 eggs in the nest chamber, followed by a further 20–40 infertile and misshapen eggs or vanos (from the Spanish for ‘empty’ or ‘wasted’).

It can nest 6 to 10 times a year during a nesting season of several months, which varies depending on the location.

Approximately 10 days pass between each arrival, when further mating occurs. The female provides no parental care and young turtles hatch within 60–80 days. It can take further 5 days for them to emerge onto the beach to face a range of predators as they return to the sea.

Leatherback nests have particularly low hatchling success - 50–60 percent is normal.

The sex of the offspring is determined by the temperature within the chamber - high temperatures produce females and low temperatures males. The pivotal temperature is about 29.5°C during a critical sex-determining period.

Little is known about the whereabouts of juvenile Dermochelys coriacea and it's unclear exactly how long it takes for the turtle to mature, or the what the average life-span is.

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Glossary
Keratinous

Made out of keratin, the protein which is the main component of our hair and nails.

Pelagic

Any water in the sea that is not close to the bottom or near to the shore.

Salps

Free-floating tunicates - a group of sac-like filter feeders.

Scutes

Hard, external, plate-like structures similar to scales, formed from lower layers of skin.