Loggerhead Turtle (caretta Caretta): Species Accounts
Physical characteristics: The loggerhead turtle has a short head that is wide at the rear and rounded at the front. It is the largest seaturtle, with a carapace up to 7 feet (2.1 meters) long and a weight of half a ton (454 kilograms). It has a hard shell with a keel, or upper ridge, down the middle and large, flipper-like front limbs. The upper shell is reddish brown to greenish, and the lower shell is whitish to yellowish.
Geographic range: The loggerhead lives in tropical and temperate oceans of the world, as well as the Mediterranean Sea.
Habitat: For the breeding season, this saltwater turtle prefers tropical waters in protected areas, such as bays, or parts of the sea that cut into a coastline, and estuaries (EHS-chew-air-eez), or the wide parts at the lower ends of rivers, where the river meets the sea. The turtle travels well into temperate regions during the remainder of the year.
Diet: Meat is the primary food of both young and adult loggerheads. Hatchlings, or newly hatched turtles, will also eat pieces of the algae mats among which they float, and adults will munch on underwater plants and algae. Favored food items for adults include snails and other mollusks, sponges, squid, and fishes.
Behavior and reproduction: Females sometimes migrate every year, but usually every two to three years, from feeding areas to nesting sites, which may be 1,300 to 1,700 miles (2,092–2,736 kilometers) away. While migrating, the males court the females with little bites, and the two turtles mate while floating in the water. After mating with one or more males, the female arrives at the nesting site, waits until nightfall to crawl onshore, digs a hole, and typically lays 96 to 120 round eggs. She may lay up to seven clutches in a single season. In about two months the eggs hatch. The young from a single female—even young from the same clutch—may have more than one father. The incubation temperature determines the sex of turtles, with higher temperatures producing females and lower temperatures producing males.
Loggerhead turtles and people: Some people still hunt this turtle and collect its eggs for food.
Conservation status: The IUCN lists the loggerhead as Endangered, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes them as Threatened. Development of coastal properties seems to be destroying their nesting areas, which has led to their decline. ∎
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bjorndal, Karen A. Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.
Dunbier, Sally. Sea Turtles. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Service Series, 2000.
Kalman, Bobbie. The Life Cycle of a Sea Turtle. New York: Crabtree Publishing, 2002.
Laskey, Kathryn. Interrupted Journey: Saving Endangered Sea Turtles. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2001.
Lutz, Peter L., and John A. Musick, eds. The Biology of Sea Turtles. 2 volumes. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1996–2003.
O'Keefe, M. Timothy. Sea Turtles: The Watcher's Guide. Lakeland, FL: Larsen's Outdoor Publishing, 1995.
"Animal Bytes: Sea Turtles." Animals. http://www.seaworld.org/animalinfo/animalbytes/animalia/eumetazoa/coelomates/deuterostomes/chordates/craniata/reptilia/testudines/sea-turtles.htm (accessed on September 7, 2004).
"Sea Turtles for Kids." Kidz Korner. http://www.turtles.org/kids.htm (accessed on September 7, 2004).
"Turtles in Trouble." National Geographic Kids. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngkids/9911/turtle (accessed on September 7, 2004).
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