Loggerhead sea turtles have large heads and blunt, powerful jaws. The turtle’s carapace and flippers are reddish-brown in color and the plastron is yellow. These nesting neighbors can grow to an average weight of 200 pounds and an average length of three feet. Although sea turtles are subject to predation throughout their life cycle, predation is particularly high during the first two years of life. Highest predation occurs during incubation and during the race of the hatchlings to the sea. The eggs are eaten by ghost crabs, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and dogs. Hatchlings are preyed upon by mammals, sea birds, crabs, and carnivorous fishes. Predation continues to be high until the turtles are big enough to avoid being swallowed by large carnivorous fishes such as groupers, snappers and jacks. Sharks are a formidable predator throughout the life cycle of sea turtles, although larger turtles can often avoid a shark attack by presenting the flat side of the plastron or carapace to prevent biting.
Date of Listing: Threatened, July 28, 1978. However, on Sept. 11, 2011, the listing was revised from a single global threatened species to a listing of nine Distinct Population Segments (DPS).
Reason for Concern: There are numerous reasons for concern, including the loss of nesting habitats due to coastal development, nest predation and marine pollution. In addition, hatchlings become disoriented by beachfront lighting, preventing them from reaching the water. Strikes from watercraft is also a cause for concern. Because of their feeding behavior and their habit of wintering in shallow waters, Loggerheads, along with Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles, are more likely to be caught in large shrimp trawl nets and drown. Today, Turtle Excluder Devices (TED’s) pulled by shrimp boats help reduce mortality from net entanglement by allowing many turtles to escape from the nets.
Size: Adults weigh 170 to 500 lbs. and have a carapace up to 45 inches in length.
Diet: Although feeding behavior may change with age, this species is carnivorous throughout its life. Loggerheads eat small sea animals, including mollusks, crustaceans and fish. During migration through the open sea, Loggerheads eat jellyfish, pteropods, floating mollusks, floating egg clusters, squids and flying fish.
Habitat (where it lives): Loggerheads are capable of living in a variety of environments. They can be found hundreds of miles offshore or in inshore areas including bays, lagoons, salt marshes and even creeks. Eighty-eight nesting beaches make up the loggerhead’s terrestrial critical habitat. These includes beaches in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Life Span: Thirty to 50 years or more.
Reproduction: 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. Females may nest one to seven times during a breeding season (April to September in the U.S.) at intervals of about 14 days, laying as many as 126 soft, round white eggs per nest along the southeastern U.S. coast. The eggs incubate in the sand for 42 to 75 days. Hatchlings emerge from the nest primarily at night. After the majority of the hatchlings appear at the surface of the nest, they start a frenzied race toward the surf and out to sea. The loggerheads age of sexual maturity is believed to be between 32 to 35 years of age.
Population Numbers: Most reliable counts are of documented nests. Total estimated nesting in the U.S. fluctuated between 47,000-90,000 nests annually over the past two decades.
Interesting Fact: Loggerhead hatchlings and juveniles are frequently associated with sea fronts (areas where ocean currents converge), downwellings, and eddies, where floating open ocean animals gather. The time that young turtles remain in these places feeding and growing is called the “lost year.” During this period, young turtles float on rafts of seaweed with the currents, feeding on organisms associated with sargassum mats.