Review and images by suspsy; edited by bmathison1972
The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is by far the biggest of all living turtles and one of the world’s biggest reptiles, exceeded only by a few crocodilians. The largest scientifically verified specimen weighed in at 650 kg (1433 lbs), although it’s quite possible that even larger individuals exist somewhere out there in the deep blue sea. In addition to its sheer size, it can immediately be distinguished from other sea turtles by its lack of a hard bony shell.
This leatherback, released by Safari Ltd. in 2017, measures an impressive 10.5 cm long and slightly over 13 cm wide at the tips of its outstretched front flippers. Its main colour is a dark, bluish-grey with many small flecks of light grey covering the head, body, and limbs. The eyes are glossy black ringed by white and there are airbrushed splashes of white on the lower jaw and the underside tail. And lastly, there is a large white pattern adorning the plastron.
Instead of a hard carapace, the leatherback’s shell is covered with thick, leathery skin, hence its name. Seven bumpy ridges run laterally down the teardrop-shaped back, while the plastron is completely smooth. The rest of the figure is covered in finely sculpted scales that range from tiny round ones on the neck to enormous angular ones on the flippers.
The front flippers look positively enormous compared to those on other living sea turtle figures, and indeed, no other species boasts bigger limbs than the leatherback. These enable the animal to swim incredibly fast despite its massive size. Turtles are legendary for usually being slow-moving creatures, but the leatherback in fact has the proud distinction of being the fastest-moving reptile in the world. It can swim at up to 35 km/h (22 mph) per hour in short bursts, although its normal speed is far less than that!
The leatherback’s head has the correct proportions and profile, with a tapering muzzle and a wide mouth. Adults feed almost entirely on jellyfish, to the point where they are essential for controlling populations. Unfortunately, they are incapable of discerning jellies from discarded plastic bags, which can easily kill the turtles when ingested. Eggs and hatchling turtles are vulnerable to scores of different predators ranging from crabs and coyotes to seabirds and large fish. Adults need only worry about the occasional danger from killer whales, great white sharks, and tiger sharks. Nesting females in South America also sometimes fall victim to jaguars, whose strong jaws can easily penetrate the leathery hide.
The Safari leatherback sea turtle is a splendid rendition of a truly remarkable reptile. And like the green sea turtle I reviewed previously, it can float in the water of one’s bathtub or swimming pool, so enjoy some wet fun!