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Species Description

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Caretta caretta


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Family: Cheloniidae

Description

The brown or reddish brown color is the easiest aid in identifying Loggerheads (see Similar Species). This is the largest hard-shelled turtle in the world, exceeded in size only by the Leatherback Sea Turtle. The record carapace length for a Loggerhead is 2.13 m (83.1 in) but the average is 85 - 100 cm (33 - 39 in). The average weight is from 77 - 159 kg (170 - 350 lbs), but the maximum recorded weight for this species is 545 kg (1199 lbs). This species is the most frequently encountered marine turtle along the coast of eastern North America.

Life Cycle

Mating occurs in open waters as females move through territories of resident males from late March to June. Females lay 52 - 159 eggs from mid-May to late August. Nesting occurs at night when females come ashore and dig nesting cavities above the high water mark on the seaward side of dune fronts. Incubation takes 49 - 76 days, but averages between 60 - 65 days. Hatchlings emerge from the nest at night and immediately crawl toward the ocean. Hatchlings average from 33.5 - 52 mm (1.3 - 2 in) in carapace length. Females reproduce, at most, only every other year, and will lay from 1 - 3 clutches of eggs in a season. Nesting has been reported as far north as New Jersey, but the greatest number of nesting females come ashore on barrier islands and mainland beaches from North Carolina south to Florida. Females will return to the same beach to nest throughout their lifetime. The estimated life span of wild adults is 47 - 62 years.

Natural History

This marine turtle generally inhabits open waters just off shore but occasionally enters the brackish waters of bays, lagoons, sounds, salt marshes, and the mouthes of large creeks and rivers. After hatching, young Loggerheads of eastern North America migrate to the sargassum beds of the western Atlantic Ocean where they find food and cover in the floating beds of seaweed. As the turtles mature, they make long distance migrations to feeding grounds. This species has been recorded migrating up to 11,155 km (6,933 mi) across the Pacific Ocean and up to 6,900 km (4,285 mi) in the Atlantic Ocean. These marine turtles are omnivorous and feed on algae, sea grasses, sponges, jellyfish, squid, mollusks, bivalves, shrimp, crabs, and fish.

Range

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Region Map The Loggerhead occurs in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as well as in the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas.

Conservation Status

The Loggerhead is listed as a Threatened species by the state of Georgia and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Many of these turtles are drowned in fishing nets each year, and changes in fishing gear are being made to save the turtle.

Similar Species

The Atlantic Ridley is smaller, and has an almost circular olive-green carapace. It has four scutes along the bridge of the shell. In the Hawksbill and Green Turtle the first costal scute does not touch the nuchal scute.