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Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata


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Alternate name: Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Family: Cheloniidae, Sea Turtles view all from this family

Description 30-36" (76-91 cm). Ocean-dwelling, with paddlelike limbs. Carapace shield-shaped, keeled, greenish-brown with mottled or radiating pattern; scutes overlap (except in hatchlings and old animals); 4 costal scutes, 1st not touching nuchal; 4 scutes on bridge. Plastron yellow; has 2 ridges in young. Snout resembles hawk's beak. Two pairs of prefrontal scales between eyes. Male's tail extends well beyond shell's margin; male's plastron slightly concave.

Endangered Status The Hawksbill is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. This turtle has suffered from degradation of its habitat and pollution. It has been killed in huge numbers for its meat and eggs, its calipee, which is used in turtle soup, and its handsome shell, used to make tortoise shell jewelry. International trade restrictions on tortoise shell have helped. Additionally, Hawksbills were once frequently caught in the nets of shrimp trawlers, but turtle excluder devices have reduced this threat significantly.

Subspecies Atlantic Hawksbill Seaturtle (E. i. imbricata), with nearly straight-sided carapace that tapers posteriorly, keel not continuous except on last 4 vertebral scutes; warm waters of the Atlantic, occasionally reaches Massachusetts.
Pacific Hawksbill Seaturtle (E. i. bissa), carapace more heart-shaped, keel continuous; tropical waters of Indian and Pacific oceans, stragglers rarely reach s. California.

Breeding Mates in shallow water off nesting beaches. Lays 50-200+ spherical eggs, about 1 1/2" (38 mm) in diameter, in a chamber 2' (61 cm) deep. Hatchlings emerge in 8-11 weeks. Rarely nests on Florida beaches.

Habitat Shallow coastal waters with rocky bottoms, coral reefs, mangrove-bordered bays and estuaries.

Range Primarily warm waters of Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Stragglers reach New England and occasionally s. California.

Discussion The Hawksbill feeds on many invertebrates, including toxic sponges, so its flesh may be poisonous to humans. It bites without hesitation when captured.