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What Is the Olive Ridley?

By Lumara Lee
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The olive ridley, or lepidochelys olivacea, is the smallest sea turtle in the world. At maturity it averages 27.5 inches (70 centimeters) long and usually weighs less than 100 pounds (45 kilograms). It is the most abundant sea turtle, inhabiting tropical locales in the Indian, Pacific, and south Atlantic oceans. The olive ridley has an olive-colored carapace, or upper shell. It was named after H.N. Ridley, a Malyasian botanist and scholar who was well-known around the turn of the 20th century.

Olive ridleys are omnivorous, and primarily eat crustaceans, mollusks, jellyfish, sea urchins and rock lobsters. Their diet also includes crabs, shrimp, snails, fish, and fish eggs. When their usual sources of food aren’t available, they will eat algae.

This small marine turtle has an unusual nesting habit called an arribada. During an arribada, hundreds or thousands of turtles gather offshore. At a synchronized time, they crawl on land en masse to lay their eggs.

The arribada is unique to olive ridley turtles, and no one knows what sets it in motion. Scientists have proposed several theories to explain it. Some believe the arribada may be triggered by pheromones being emitted by the females, and others conjecture that offshore winds are responsible. Lunar cycles have also been suggested as a possible cause.

Adult females lay eggs once or twice every year. Their clutches contain an average of 110 eggs. These eggs have an incubation period of approximately 52 to 58 days.

Egg nests are vulnerable to a host of predators. Opossums, raccoons, snakes, ghost crabs, and feral dogs enjoy feasting on the unhatched eggs. As the hatchlings crawl across the beaches from their nests to the water, they become food for vultures, coyotes, raccoons, crabs, and snakes. Once in the water, the olive ridley becomes prey to crocodiles, sharks, and fish.

The olive ridley has been listed as an endangered species. Humans are considered their worst predator. Adult olive ridleys are slaughtered for their meat and hides. People also collect their eggs in numbers too large to sustain the turtles’ population.

Olive ridleys also become incidental catch in large fishery operations and suffer mortal wounds from colliding with boats. Pollution, coastal development, and erosion have decreased their nesting sites and have had an adverse impact on their foraging areas. Although there are sanctions in many countries against collecting the eggs and harvesting adult olive ridleys, the challenges of global enforcement have rendered them largely ineffective.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Olive Ridley?

The Olive Ridley, scientifically known as Lepidochelys olivacea, is a small sea turtle known for its olive-colored carapace. It's one of the smallest members of the sea turtle family and is primarily found in warm and tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are famous for their mass nesting behavior called arribada.

Why is the Olive Ridley turtle endangered?

Olive Ridley turtles face threats from both natural and human activities. According to the IUCN Red List, they are classified as Vulnerable due to the loss of nesting and feeding habitats, excessive egg collection, fishery-related mortality, pollution, and coastal development. These factors have led to a significant decline in their population worldwide.

What is the arribada phenomenon associated with Olive Ridleys?

Arribada is a Spanish term meaning 'arrival' and refers to the unique synchronized nesting behavior of Olive Ridley turtles. During an arribada, thousands of females come ashore on the same beach to lay eggs over several days. This extraordinary event occurs at only a few beaches worldwide, such as Ostional in Costa Rica and Gahirmatha in India.

How many eggs does an Olive Ridley typically lay?

An Olive Ridley turtle typically lays between 100 to 150 eggs per clutch. However, they can lay up to three clutches in a single nesting season. Despite the large number of eggs, only a small percentage of hatchlings survive to adulthood due to predation and other threats.

What do Olive Ridley turtles eat?

Olive Ridley turtles are omnivorous and have a varied diet that includes jellyfish, algae, lobsters, crabs, tunicates, and small invertebrates. They play an important role in marine ecosystems by helping to control jellyfish populations and contributing to the nutrient cycle through their foraging activities.

How can we help protect Olive Ridley turtles?

Protecting Olive Ridley turtles involves several conservation strategies. Efforts include protecting nesting beaches, regulating fisheries to reduce bycatch, enforcing laws against illegal trade of turtle products, and cleaning up marine habitats. Public education and community involvement are also crucial for the conservation of these turtles. Supporting organizations dedicated to marine conservation can make a significant impact.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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