South Carolina State Reptile
Loggerhead Sea Turtle (common name)
Caretta caretta (scientific name)
The loggerhead is the world’s biggest hard-shelled turtle. It swims through ocean waters off the United States coast and around the world. This aquatic reptile migrates and lives in all but the coldest of the world’s oceans. The loggerhead gets its name from its head, which is large, triangular, and looks like a log when the turtle floats in the water.
ALSO KNOWN AS
This turtle has a horny beak, powerful jaws for crushing prey, and distinctive coloring. An adult loggerhead turtle has a rust-brown, slightly heart-shaped shell that tapers to a bit of a point in the back. Underneath, the shell is light yellow. A loggerhead’s skin has similar coloring, running from red-brown on its head, neck, and flippers to light yellow on the sides and underneath. A smooth shell and flippers adapted for propulsion help the loggerhead sea turtle swim quickly. This turtle has dark brown scales on top of its head, and an adult usually has encrusting organisms like barnacles on its shell. It’s difficult to tell a male from a female, but an adult male loggerhead usually has a slightly larger tail and longer claws than a female.
Average 30 years. Maximum over 50 years.
Coastal waters. Nesting sites are ocean beaches and estuaries with coarse sand.
Range: Coastal waters worldwide as far north as Alaska and Newfoundland, south to Australia and Argentina.
Conservation Status: Endangered (EN). Listed as endangered internationally. Coastal development around the world has reduced loggerhead nesting habitats. Artificial lighting near nesting beaches disorients hatchlings, which then die or are caught by predators without reaching the water. Pollution and accidental catches in fishing nets also kill adult loggerheads. In some areas, people hunt loggerheads illegally. Loggerhead eggs and meat are traditional sources of food, and their shells and oil also have various uses.
A loggerhead can swim almost 15 mph (24 kph), and generally stays underwater. It can stay submerged for as long as seven hours, surfacing for only minutes to recuperate, but is extremely slow on dry land. It’s not clear whether the loggerhead hibernates. It most probably migrates to warmer waters. The loggerhead mates along migration routes between feeding and breeding grounds. Mating season varies around the world. A female nests on shore, and returns to her own birthplace to build her nest. Nesting season is April to September. A female travels long distances to lay her eggs on or near the same beach where she herself hatched. She digs a hole just under 16 inches (40 cm) deep and deposits 70 to 150 soft-shelled eggs, which she covers with sand. A female loggerhead can build about three to five nests in a single season.
The eggs hatch after about two months depending on temperature and weather conditions. The sex of hatchlings is also determined by temperature. Lower temperatures produce males, and higher temperatures produce females. Hatchlings leave the nest at night and try to reach the sea. Roughly two-thirds of the eggs in any given nest will hatch, and it’s possible that only one or two hatchlings per nest ever make it to the open ocean. A male loggerhead that reaches the ocean never returns to land.
Conch, clams, mussels, and other mollusks; horseshoe crabs and other crustaceans; squid; fish; jellyfish; sargassum and other seaweed.
Breeding interval: Annual
Hatching period: Varies
Average nest size: 100 eggs
Size at birth: average length 2 in (50 mm); weight 0.04 lbs (20 g)
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Raw Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Author: World Trade Press