How the leatherback turtle got its name, and why shieldbugs smell of marzipan
AReaching half a tonne in weight, the leatherback turtle is a giant among reptiles – only a few species of crocodilian are larger. It is also remarkable for lacking the bony carapace typical of its relatives. Its ‘shell’ is in fact a layer of tough, rubbery skin adorned with thousands of tiny bone plates. Its scientific name, Dermochelys coriacea, translates as ‘leathery-skinned turtle’. Alternative colloquial names include ‘lute turtle’, which may derive from the seven ridges along its back, said to evoke the strings of a lute.
Leatherbacks are also unusual in being specialist predators of jellyfish. Fleshy, backward-pointing projections in the mouth and throat help them to handle and swallow their slippery prey.
The leatherback has the largest distribution of any turtle. Though classed as Vulnerable, the species can be surprisingly hardy: one individual was monitored swimming through Hurricane Florence.