Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Caretta caretta
Loggerhead Swimming

Sea turtles are graceful saltwater reptiles, well adapted to life in their marine world. With streamlined bodies and flipper-like limbs, they are graceful swimmers able to navigate across the oceans. The loggerhead is the most abundant of all marine turtle species in U.S. waters, but persistent population declines due to pollution, shrimp trawling, and development in their nesting areas, have kept this wide-ranging seagoer on the threatened and endangered species list since 1978.

Description and Diet
Loggerhead sea turtles were named for their relatively large heads, which support powerful jaws and enable them to feed on hard-shelled prey such as whelks and conch. The top shell (carapace) is slightly heart-shaped and reddish brown in adults and sub-adults, while the bottom shell (plastron) is generally a pale yellowish color. Adult males reach about three feet in shell length and weigh about 250 pounds, but large specimens of more than 1,000 pounds have been found.

Loggerheads are primarily carnivores, munching jellyfish, conch, crabs, and even fish, but will eat seaweed and sargassum occasionally.

Habitat
The loggerhead is widely distributed within its range. It may be found hundreds of miles out to sea, as well as inshore areas such as bays, lagoons, salt marshes, creeks, ship channels, and the mouths of large rivers. Coral reefs, rocky places, and ship wrecks are often used as feeding areas. Nesting occurs mainly on open beaches or along narrow bays having suitable sand, and it is often in association with other species of sea turtles. Most loggerhead hatchlings originating from U.S. beaches are believed to lead a pelagic existence in the North Atlantic gyre for an extended period of time, perhaps as long as 7 to 12 years. Post hatchlings have been found floating at sea in association with Sargassum rafts. Once they reach a certain size, these juvenile loggerheads begin recruiting to coastal areas in the western Atlantic where they become benthic feeders in lagoons, estuaries, bays, river mouths, and shallow coastal waters. These juveniles occupy coastal feeding grounds for about 13 to 20 years before maturing and making their first reproductive migration, the females returning to their natal beach to nest.

Reproduction and Development
The U.S. nesting season occurs from April through September, with a peak in June and July. Nesting occurs primarily at night. Loggerheads are known to nest from one to seven times within a nesting season (mean is about 4.1 nests per season) at intervals of approximately 14 days. Mean clutch size varies from about 100 to 126 along the southeastern U.S. coast. Incubation duration ranges from about 42 to 75 days, depending on incubation temperatures, but averages 55-60 days for most clutches in Florida. Hatchlings generally emerge at night. Remigration intervals of 2 to 3 years are most common in nesting loggerheads, but remigration can vary from 1 to 7 years. Age at sexual maturity is believed to be about 32 to 35 years.

Management and Protection
In the southeastern U.S., major nest protection efforts and beach habitat protection are underway for most of the significant nesting areas, and significant progress has been made in reducing mortality from commercial fisheries in U.S. waters with the enforcement of turtle excluder device regulations. Many coastal counties and communities in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina have developed lighting ordinances to reduce hatchling disorientations. Important U.S. nesting beaches have been and continue to be acquired for long-term protection. The migratory nature of loggerheads severely compromises these efforts once they move outside U.S. waters, however, since legal and illegal fisheries activities in some countries are causing high mortality of loggerheads from the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS. Due to the long range migratory movements of sea turtles between nesting beaches and foraging areas, long-term international cooperation is absolutely essential for recovery and stability of nesting populations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facts About Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Diet
Mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and other marine animals
Size
Average adults weigh around 200 lbs. and are approximately 3 ft. long.
Protection Status
Threatened (some populations are listed as endangered)
Did You Know?
When a female loggerhead reaches reproductive age (around 35 years old), she returns to the beach where she hatched to build a nest and lay her eggs.