They are named for their long, narrow head and their hawk-like beak. The hawksbill needs its sharp beak because it has no teeth. It uses its bill to reach into crevices, and then to crush and tear it prey.
It feeds on sea grasses, small invertebrates and algae, but its primary diet is sponges. The bill is more helpful than teeth for ripping apart sponges.
#1 Coral reef gardeners
A single hawksbill can eat an average of 1,200 sponges a year, which is a big help in maintaining the coral reefs as the sponges compete with coral.
Its jaw is actually hollowed out so that it has plenty of room for its large dinner of sponges. But sponges are actually composed of tiny, glasslike needles.
Accordingly, the sponge does not have many predators. This may discourage others, but hawksbills don’t seem to mind at all.
#2 Toxic body parts
Not only are they capable of eating glasslike needles, but the graceful, unassuming hawksbill also consumes toxic fare without hesitation. Some of the sponges the hawksbills eat are highly poisonous.
The body fat of the hawksbill absorbs these toxins and they make the hawksbill meat toxic, but this doesn’t appear to affect the hawksbill turtle at all1.
#3 The fastest swimmer
Although it grows to between two and feet long and can weigh between 100 and 150 pounds when it reaches maturity, the hawksbill is the smallest of the sea turtles and its slender profile gives it a streamlined, agile appearance.
They are the fastest of all of the sea turtles.
#4 Special armour
They differ from other sea turtles in that they have two sets of prefrontal scales on their heads, one on each side of their two eyes. They also have two claws on each flipper.
#5 Unique shell
Its top shell or carapace is the classic tortoiseshell with a rich reddish brown or dark brown mottling. Their shell is architecturally different from any other turtle’s.
The scutes of its upper shell overlap, much like a shingled roof. Its bottom shell is golden.
#6 300 leagues across the sea
The beautiful hawksbill turtle has been swimming the earth’s oceans for over 100 million years 2!
No one knows how far hawksbills travel, but hawksbills are known to be highly migratory. Recent satellite tracking efforts during mating season suggest that a hawksbill can swim a distance of 1,800 kilometers in one month3.
#7 Arduous journey to reproduce
Hawksbill turtles are solitary creatures, only meeting to mate every three to seven years after they reach maturity. Scientists guess this is around age thirty.
The pregnant female returns to the beach where she was born, even if it is 1,800 kilometers away from her foraging ground and there she lays anywhere from 60 to 200 eggs during a mating season.
#8 What no one knows for real…
Again, no one is certain, many say early thirties, but many believe that hawksbills can live to fifty years of age4.
#9 Missing from the Mediterranean
The largest populations of hawksbills are in the Caribbean Sea, the Seychelles, Indonesia, Mexico, and Australia. They are not found at all in the Mediterranean and few are found in US waters. Only a handful nest in Florida each year.
#10 Shallow waters as playground
Hawksbills prefer rocky areas, coral reefs, shallow coastal areas, lagoons or oceanic islands, and narrow creeks and passes for foraging and nesting.
They are seldom seen in water deeper than 65 feet, though their migrations take them great distances.
#11 Skilled climbers
Adult females are able to climb over reefs and rocks to nest in beach vegetation. They seek undisturbed deep-sand beaches in the tropics to nest.
There they clear away the dry sand with their front flippers and dig a hole in the sand with their rear flippers. Then they lay a clutch of eggs, which will hatch in about 60 days5.
#12 Hatchlings’ secrets
As you are probably beginning to fathom, there is a lot that is not known about the hawksbill turtle.
In fact, the habitat of the little hawksbill hatchlings in the Pacific and Indian Oceans is pretty much completely unknown.
Hawksbill hatchlings have been spotted on floating mats of algae and drift lines of flotsam and jetsam in the Atlantic Ocean. When they are nine to ten inches long, the young hawksbills move to coastal areas with hard-bottomed reef habitats where they can forage for sponges6.
#13 The only glowing reptile
Not only are they slender, graceful and beautiful, but the hawksbill turtle can actually glow! The hawksbill turtle is the only known reptile to be biofluorescent, or in other words, to glow.
They can glow yellow, pink, orange, red, green, or purple7.