Discover Maryland's Herps

Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)

Family Cheloniidae

Atlantic Hawksbill Seaturtle
Eretmochelys i. imbricata

Atlantic Hawksbill Seaturtle, i-Stock photo


30-35 inches. Record - 44 inches.


  • A brown, greenish-brown or black carapace (top shell) which is shield-shaped and flattened.
  • Smaller individuals may have a “tortoise shell” pattern (combinations of amber, brown and black), which is the source of the commercial product.
  • The plastron (bottom shell), chin and throat are yellow.
  • The carapace has a keel down its center, with serrations along the rear margin.
  • The scutes overlap like shingles, except in older specimens.
  • Four costal scutes on each side of the carapace. The first costal scute does not touch the nuchal scute.
  • Two pairs of scales between eyes (vs. one pair in Green seaturtle).
  • Photo of Atlantic Hawksbill Seaturtle, courtesy of Caroline Rogers, USGS
    Photo of Atlantic Hawksbill Seaturtle, courtesy of Caroline Rogers, USGS


    Primarily a tropical species, where it is found only in marine environments, particularly shallow areas of rocky coastlines, coral reefs, estuaries and lagoons with mud bottoms. The key is shallow areas with little or no vegetation. No nesting occurs at our latitude.

    How to Find

    An extremely rare visitor to our shores. Little is known about this turtle’s behavior due to its solitary nature, even when nesting. Look in the Coastal Bays for individuals resting on the bottom in clear water during the summer. State and federally listed as Endangered. If you observe or find any individuals please contact DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Service.

    Distribution in Maryland

    Coastal Bays of Worcester County

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

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    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.