Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)

Hawksbill Sea Turtle​ (Eretmochelys imbricata​​)

Common Name:

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Atlantic Hawksbill Seaturtle, i-Stock photo 
Photo courtesy of iStock

Size: 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 Hawksbill Sea Turtle, 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.

Distribution in Maryland:

Coastal Bays of Worcester County. ​This turtle is listed as Federally and State Endangered. If found, please report sightings to the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service. If found stranded or dead, please report sightings