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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Species Fact Profile: Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Caretta caretta (Linnaeus, 1758)

Range: Atlantic (includes Mediterranean Sea), Pacific, and Indian Oceans
Habitat: Open Ocean, Shallow Coastal Waters, Estuaries
Diet: Benthic Marine Invertebrates (Sponges, Coral, Anemones, etc), Fish, Vascular Plants, Algae, Jellyfish, Squid
Social Grouping: Solitary
Reproduction:  Mating season varies by geography; polygamous, with male courting several females, and females mating with several males (one clutch of eggs may be fathered by several males).  Females may store sperm from previous matings.  A clutch of over 100 eggs is laid near water and hatches after an 80 day incubation period.  Sex of the young is determined by incubation temperature.  
Lifespan: 45-65 Years
Conservation Status:  IUCN Endangered, CITES Appendix I

  • The world's largest hard-shelled turtle, body length is 70-95 centimeters with a weight of 80-200 kilograms.  Some specimens are much larger - the record is 213 centimeters long, 545 kilograms
  • Skin is yellowish-brown, the shell is reddish-brown
  • Sexes are indistinguishable when young - as adults, males have thicker tails, shorter plastrons, wider and less-domed carapaces, and wider heads (the common name refers to the large head)
  • Primarily active by day.  Observations of captives show alternation between periods of swimming and periods of resting on the bottom of the enclosure.  The average dive lasts for 15-30 minutes, but turtles can stay submerged for up to 4 hours
  • Sharks are the primary predator of adults.  Juveniles may be preyed upon by seals, orcas, moray eels, and parrotfish.  Hatchlings and eggs are preyed upon by raccoons, foxes, snakes, crabs, and various birds and fish - they are especially vulnerable immediately after hatching, when traveling from the beach to the ocean 
  • Females can be territorial and aggression between females is common.  This can consist of ramming and butting
  • Migrate to avoid cold-stunning and lethargy, which can occur at temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius
  • There are two proposed subspecies - the Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific.  There are also differences observed between different populations (e.g.: Mediterranean loggerheads are smaller than those found in the Atlantic Ocean)
  • Over 100 species of 13 phyla have been found living on the carapaces of loggerhead turtles, making them "living reefs"
  • Capable of naturally hybridizing with other sea turtle species, including the hawksbill and the green sea turtles.  These hybrids may be fertile
  • Threats include disturbance of nest sites, hunting for meat and eggs (illegal now in many countries), entanglement and drowning in nets, and diseases such as Fibropapillomatosis, which causes the formation of external tumors
  • The loggerhead is the official state reptile of South Carolina and the state saltwater reptile of Florida

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