Discover Maryland's Herps

Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)

Family Dermochelyidae

Leatherback Seaturtle
Dermochelys coriacea

Photo of Leatherback Seaturtle courtesy of Scott R. Benson,
NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center


53-70 inches. Record - 96 inches.


  • This is the largest species of turtle in the world.

  • The brown, black or bluish-black carapace (top shell) lacks horny scutes, but is covered with a ridged and leathery skin.

  • Seven ridges run the length of the body.

  • The carapace may also have a variable number of white or pink blotches.

  • The whitish plastron (bottom shell) has five longitudinal ridges.

  • The head, neck and limbs are black to dark green, also with a variable number of white or pink blotches.

  • Habitat

    Primarily open ocean (pelagic) but can occasionally be found near shore or in the shallow waters of bays and estuaries. They follow drifting schools of jellyfish, their main prey.

    How to Find

    A very rare sight. Keep a lookout when boating offshore through large schools of jellyfish. As our other sea turtles, dead individuals occasionally wash up on beaches. State and federally listed as Endangered. If you observe or find any individuals please contact DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Service.

    Distribution in Maryland

    Off-shore Worcester County.

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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.