FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

Known for its large head and blunt jaws used to feed on hard-shelled prey, loggerhead turtles are the most abundant species of sea turtle that nests in the United States. The species is found worldwide, and has nine distinct population segments that are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In the U.S., the species' Northwest Atlantic Ocean distinct population segment nests primarily along the Atlantic coast of Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina, and along the Florida and Alabama coasts in the Gulf of Mexico.

The species is threatened by loss or degradation of its nesting habitat from coastal development and beach armoring. Nests are vulnerable to predation by native and non-native predators, and hatchlings to disorienting beachfront lighting. In their marine foraging habitat, loggerheads face threats from marine pollution and debris, watercraft strikes, disease, and incidental take from channel dredging and commercial trawling, longline, and gill net fisheries. 

In the southeastern U.S., concerted nest-protection and beach-habitat protection efforts 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 distinct population segment. 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.

Scientific Name

Caretta caretta
Common Name
Loggerhead
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
FWS Category
Reptiles
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Genus
Species

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Lifecycle

Characteristics
Lifespan

 

Lifespan is estimated to be 70 years or more.

Reproduction

The U.S. nesting season for the species 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. 

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.

Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

Loggerhead turtles feed on mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and other marine animals.

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Color & Pattern

The carapace and flippers are a reddish-brown color; the plastron is yellow. The carapace has five pairs of costal scutes with the first touching the nuchal scute. There are three large inframarginal scutes on each of the bridges between the plastron and carapace. 

Weight

Measurements

Weight: 200 to 350 pounds

Size & Shape

For sea turtles, loggerheads are medium size.

Measurements

Length: 2.5 to 3.5 feet 

 

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

The loggerhead is widely distributed within its range. It may be found hundreds of miles out to sea, as well as in 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, and are best known from the eastern Atlantic near the Azores and Madeira. 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.

Marine

Of or relating to the sea.

Coastal

The land near a shore.

Geography

Launch Interactive Map

Timeline

Explore the information available for this taxon's timeline. You can select an event on the timeline to view more information, or cycle through the content available in the carousel below.

31 Items