The Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Species: Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Size: Adult carapace (upper shell) length = 36 inches (92 cm) (National Marine Fisheries Service 2015, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2015)
Adult weight = 250 pounds (113 kg) (National Marine Fisheries Service 2015)
Coloration: Hatchlings are dark gray with reddish brown streaking above and yellow or tan below; adults are reddish brown above and pale yellow below
Range: Nesting – The majority of nesting occurs on beaches in the western Atlantic and Indian oceans; in the western Atlantic nesting occurs from Virginia to Florida; in the Gulf of Mexico it occurs from Florida to Texas; 80-90% of all U.S. nesting occurs in Florida, which includes one of the two largest loggerhead rookeries (nesting areas) in the world (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2015, National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008)
Non-nesting – Worldwide in temperate and tropical regions of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans, including in the Gulf of Mexico; juveniles primarily use nearshore coastal waters (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2015, National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008)
Diet: Crabs, conches and other mollusks, jellyfish, fish, and other marine animals (National Marine Fisheries Service 2015, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2015)
Lifespan: Unknown; reaches sexual maturity at 32-35 years (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2015)
Status: Of 9 currently recognized distinct population segments, 4 are federally listed as threatened and 5 are federally listed as endangered; the population in the Gulf of Mexico is federally threatened (National Marine Fisheries Service 2015, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2015)
Nesting season: April through September in the U.S.; females nest every 1-7 years and lay 3-5 clutches in one nesting season; each nest contains an average of 100-126 eggs that take about 2 months to hatch (National Marine Fisheries Service 2015, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2015)
Historic population: Unknown
Lowest population: Unknown
Reasons for decline: Historic and ongoing incidental capture in fishing gear; historic and ongoing harvest of eggs, juveniles, and adults; other ongoing human impacts and environmental degradation of nesting and marine habitats (National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008)
Current threats: Loss or degradation of nesting habitat from development and armoring; loss of hatchlings affected by beachfront lighting; nest predation by native and non-native predators; degradation of marine foraging habitat; marine pollution and debris; watercraft strikes; disease; and incidental take from channel dredging and commercial trawling, longline, and gill net fisheries (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2015)
FUN AND FASCINATING FACTS about the Loggerhead:
- What a big head you have! The original, 16th century term “logger-head” literally meant “block-head”! A logger was a big block of wood that was fastened to a horse’s leg so it couldn’t run away. The large head of this turtle in proportion to its body likely inspired its common name.
- World travelers! Loggerheads are found not only in the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic but worldwide. They forage and nest in a wide range of places, including Brazil, Japan, South Africa, and Australia.
- A baker’s dozen….Human consumption was not a major factor in the decline of loggerheads as it was for some other sea turtles. However, collecting loggerhead eggs for use in bakeries was a successful industry in St. Augustine, Florida for a period of time (Rothschild 2004).
- Seafood supermarkets! The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle encountered in the southeastern U.S. It is often seen around wrecks, reefs, and other underwater structures. These structures are veritable seafood supermarkets for the turtles because of the crabs, jellyfish, Portuguese man-of-war, and mollusks that tend to concentrate in such places.
- Feel the burn! Loggerheads are one of several sea turtle species that eat jellyfish, Portuguese man-of-war, and other stinging creatures. Are they immune to the sting? Scientists don’t think so. Compare it to a person who likes to eat hot peppers. The peppers burn and sting, but some people still enjoy eating peppers. Loggerheads apparently find jellyfish not only tolerable but tasty!
National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008. Recovery Plan for the Northwest Atlantic Population of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta), Second Revision. National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD.
Rothschild, S.B. 2004. Beachcomber’s Guide to Gulf Coast Marine Life: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Third Edition.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Florida Ecological Services Field Office. 2015. Loggerhead sea turtle fact sheet. Retrieved from http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/SeaTurtles/Turtle%20Factsheets/loggerhead-sea-turtle.htm