Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Subclass: Anapsida
Order: Testudines
Family: Cheloniidae
Genus: Caretta
Rafinesque, 1814
Species: C. caretta
Binomial name
Caretta caretta
Linnaeus, 1758

The Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) is a sea turtle and the only member of the genus Caretta. The genus name "Caretta" is a latinization of the French "caret", meaning turtle, tortoise, or sea turtle.[1] A loggerhead sea turtle reportedly grows up to 800 lbs (364 kg) and 3.5 feet (1.1 m) long.[2] Their shell color is a reddish brown color, and the color of their skin is brown yellow. They are named for their disproportionately large head. They are also the state reptile of South Carolina.[3]

Trophic ecology

The species feeds on molluscs, crustaceans, fish, jellyfish, crabs, shrimp and Portuguese Man o' War and other small to medium-sized marine animals, which they crush with their large and powerful jaws. As with other sea turtles, females return to lay their eggs on or near the same beach where they hatched. Unlike other sea turtles, courtship and mating usually do not take place near the nesting beach but rather along the migration routes between feeding and breeding grounds.

Scientists in Hawaii use satellite transponders to track loggerhead sea turtles in the Northern Pacific Ocean.[4].

Life history

Close up of the head
Baby Loggerhead Sea Turtle.

In the Mediterranean, Loggerheads mate from late March to early June. The female nesting season is at its peak in June and July, but this depends on the nesting beach. The clutch may vary from 70 to 150 eggs. Each egg is roughly the size and shape of a ping-pong ball. The average interval between nesting seasons is two to three years.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle laying eggs.

Loggerhead turtles are the most common sea turtle to nest in the United States. Loggerheads nest from Texas to North Carolina, requiring soft sandy beaches, where there is little light pollution; with the largest concentration of nests in south Florida. Statistics collected in Florida since 1998 however indicate the lowest nesting levels Florida has seen in 17 years, where nesting rates have declined from 85,988 nests in 1998 to approximately 45,084 in 2007.[5]

After approximately 60 days, the hatchlings emerge usually at night when protection from predation is greater. Because they usually follow the brightest light to the ocean's edge, artificial lights from human activity can lead them astray. Once in the ocean they use ocean currents to travel to the Sargasso Sea using the Sargassum as protection until they mature.[6]

An alternative to migration for many loggerheads is hibernation to varying degrees as the water cools. Loggerhead turtles have no bones on the tip of their front legs. By February they are submerged for up to seven hours at a time, emerging for only seven minutes to recover. Although outdone by freshwater turtles, these are the longest recorded dives for any air-breathing marine vertebrate[7].

Most loggerheads that reach adulthood live for longer than 30 years, and can often live past 198.7 years.They are immune to the toxins of a Portuguese Man o' War as the turtles have often been seen feeding on them.

Etymology and taxonomic history

Two subspecies are recognized: Caretta caretta gigas, is found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and C. caretta caretta, the Atlantic loggerhead, also found in south Italy and the Greek islands of Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Crete, and the Peloponese and in Dalyan in southwestern Turkey. (see article; June Haimoff).


A loggerhead mainly feeds on bottom dwelling invertebrates. They eat horseshoe crabs, clams, mussels, and other invertebrates. Their powerful jaw muscles help them to easily crush the shellfish. During migration through the open sea, loggerheads eat jellyfishes, floating mollusks, floating egg clusters, squids and flying fishes.

Importance to humans

Loggerhead Sea Turtles were once intensively hunted for their meat and eggs, along with their fat which was used in cosmetics and medication. The Loggerhead Sea Turtles were also killed for their shells, which are used to make items such as combs. As a result, both subspecies are now internationally protected.


Loggerhead Sea Turtle escapes from fishing net through a TED (Turtle Excluder Device).

Loggerhead turtles are classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and are listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. In the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and National Marine Fisheries Service classify them as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Today the main threat to the adult loggerheads lies in shrimp trawls and crab fishing nets, to which many loggerheads annually fall victim[8]. Furthermore, adults are often injured by speedboat propellers and by swallowing fishing hooks or getting caught in nets. Internationally, animal protection organizations take pains to monitor and protect the turtles' nesting grounds in Turkey,[9] Greece[10], Bonaire, and Costa Rica. The turtles can also be found around the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Linosa, off the coast of Sicily, and in Calabria, where it is particularly endangered. Furthermore, the turtles are known to nest on the beaches of Cyprus, especially Akamas and Alagadi Beach.[11]

Loggerhead Sea Turtle nest roped off as part of the Sea Turtle Protection Project on Hilton Head Island

In many places during the nesting season, workers search the coastline to find evidence of nests. Once found, a nest will be uncovered and the eggs carefully counted, if the nest is dangerously located the eggs will be moved to a better spot. Plastic fencing will be placed at or near the surface to protect the eggs from large predators such as raccoons or even dogs. The barrier used is large enough to allow the hatchlings to emerge without difficulty. The nests are checked daily for disturbances; several days after there is indication that the eggs have hatched the nest will be uncovered and the tally of hatched eggs, undeveloped eggs, and dead hatchlings will be recorded. If any hatchlings are found, they are either taken to be raised and released, or taken to research facilities. Ones that appear strong and healthy may instead be released to the ocean. Typically, those that lacked the strength to hatch and climb to the surface by that point would have died otherwise.

Hatchlings require the travel from their nest to the ocean in order to build up strength for the journey ahead, so interfering by helping it to the ocean actually lowers their chances of survival.The Fripp Island, SC Turtle Patrol each year sets pieces of drift wood from the nests toward the sea as guides so the hatchlings get to start out in the right direction.


The loggerhead sea turtle lives in areas such as bays, lagoons, salt marshes, creeks, ship channels, and the mouths of large rivers. Coral reefs, rocky places, and ship wrecks are places where you might find a feeding ground for loggerheads. Loggerheads nest on ocean beaches and on estuarine shorelines with suitable sand. They like to feed in coastal bays and estuaries, as well as in the shallow water along the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.