Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) are marine reptiles commonly known as loggerheads. They belong to the family Cheloniidae and inhibit all of the world’s oceans except for the cold waters of the Arctic and Antarctic.
They are the most abundant turtle species in the United States coastal waters. However, today, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists them as a threatened species.
The Loggerhead turtle earns its name from its disproportional broad, large head, which resembles a log. Also, they are the largest hard-shelled turtles and can weigh up to 450 kg, with females being typically larger than males. It is also the world’s second-largest turtle after the leatherback sea turtle.
The loggerhead sea turtle is a large marine reptile that can grow up to 2.5 meters long and weigh up to 400 kilograms. It is also easy to tell the sex of adult loggerheads since males have significantly longer tails than females.
Loggerheads are easily identified by their large head, which is larger than those of other sea turtles.
Their shell is divided into two, carapace and plastron. The carapace is reddish-brown, while the plastron, the shell’s underside, is pale yellow.
Further, they have a distinctive pattern of five scutes on their carapace that is unique among all sea turtles. The scutes are made of keratin, the same material that makes up human fingernails, and form a protective shell around the turtle’s body.
The turtles also have four powerful flippers. Their front flippers are much larger than their rear flippers and have thick, strong bones that allow them to paddle through the water easily. Their rear flippers are adjusted for digging nests on sandy sea shores.
Loggerheads have non-retractable necks and limbs. This feature allows them to swim with ease. Another adaptation is their robust and protective shell which serves as a shield against predators and other potential dangers.
In terms of movement, loggerhead sea turtles possess sturdy flippers perfectly suited for swimming in the ocean. They use their front flippers for propulsion, propelling themselves through the water, while their back flippers provide the necessary steering to navigate effectively.
In addition to their physical adaptations, they have excellent eyesight for foraging, evading predators, and navigating the ocean. They are capable of seeing clearly in both bright and dim light. Interestingly, they can even distinguish colors. They also have an excellent sense of smell that assists them in locating food and nesting grounds.
Although loggerhead sea turtles occur in the world’s oceans, they are primarily found in subtropical and tropical regions. They are commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Indian and Pacific Oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea.
While loggerhead sea turtles spend most of their lives in the open ocean, they also inhabit shallow waters, such as bays, lagoons, and beaches. This, however, depends on the stage of their life cycle.
They are commonly spotted along the United States, Japan, Australia, and Greece coastlines. This is because these regions offer crucial feeding grounds and nesting beaches.
Loggerheads are carnivorous, primarily feeding on crustaceans, mollusks, jellyfish, and other marine life. These turtles have powerful jaws that enable them to crush the shells of their prey. They also have specialized spiny cusps in their throats called papillae, which help them easily grip and consume their prey.
Their diet, however, depends on their life stages and food availability. For instance, juvenile loggerheads spend their early years of development in floating mats of sargassum. They feed on small invertebrates like crabs, shrimps, and jellyfish. As they age, their diet expands to include mollusks, fish, sea urchins, and sponges.
Sometimes, they accidentally consume plastic waste, which resembles jellyfish, thus leading to injury or even death.
Loggerhead sea turtles reproduce sexually with internal fertilization. Mating primarily takes place in the open ocean. During mating, the males grasp onto the females’ shells using their flippers, positioning themselves for successful mating.
Once mating is accomplished, females swim back to the same beaches where they were hatched to lay their eggs, a phenomenon known as natal homing. Once they reach the nesting beach, they dig deep nests in the sand using their flippers.
Normally, they lay around 3 to 4 clutches of 100 to 120 eggs at a time. After carefully covering the nests, the females return to the ocean, leaving their eggs to incubate for approximately 60 days.
When the time is right, the hatchlings emerge from their nests and instinctively go to the ocean. The gender of the hatchlings mostly depends on the temperature of the sand. More males are born at lower temperatures, while warmer temperatures produce more females.
Loggerhead sea turtle is endangered, facing numerous threats throughout its life cycle.
One of the primary threats to them is predation, particularly during their young lives. Their small and unprotected eggs are vulnerable to predators such as birds, crabs, and humans. Adult loggerheads are also not left behind since they are preyed on by killer whales and sharks.
Another significant threat to loggerhead turtles is bycatch in fishing gear, leading to drowning, injuries, and death.
Climate change poses yet another threat to them. Rising temperatures affect the sex ratio of hatchlings, leading to an imbalance in the population. Not only that, but also rising seas and storms may also lead to flooding or erosion, putting nests at risk of being washed away.
Ocean pollution and marine debris such as fishing lines, plastic bags, floating tar or oil, and other human-discarded items pose a risk to all sea turtles. In most cases, loggerhead sea turtles mistake these items for food, thus causing fatal consequences.
Loggerheads are one of the most endangered species in the world. Fortunately, many countries have implemented laws to safeguard their nesting sites and reduce accidental bycatch.
Even better, conservation organizations and researchers are working tirelessly to raise awareness about the importance of plastic reduction and responsible waste management to protect marine life.
On top of that, various conservation initiatives are focusing on monitoring nesting beaches, protecting habitat areas, and promoting sustainable fishing practices.
However, collaborative efforts are needed between governments, scientists, local communities, and conservation organizations to ensure their long-term survival.
Facts about Loggerhead Sea Turtles
- Loggerhead sea turtles get their name from their large, broad heads and powerful jaws.
- Although they are found in all the world’s oceans, they commonly inhabit the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.
- Loggerheads are primarily carnivorous, feeding on crabs, jellyfish, and other invertebrates.
- A female loggerhead sea turtle travels thousands of miles to the beach, where she was hatched to lay her eggs.
- The loggerhead species has existed for over 110 million years.
- Loggerhead sea turtles have a lifespan of around 50 to 67 years.
- When hatched, loggerheads are only two inches long but grow to be over 3 feet long and up to 400 kg adults.
- Only one in 1,000 baby sea turtles will survive to adulthood
- Temperatures during egg incubation periods determine the sex of the hatchling.
Are loggerhead turtles facing extinction?
Despite being listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the loggerheads are not facing extinction. Although their population is stable, they face numerous threats that could push them to extinction.
Can loggerheads harm humans?
While loggerheads have powerful jaws and a strong bite, they are generally gentle creatures and not aggressive towards humans.
However, they can bite you if they feel threatened.
Are loggerheads edible?
Even though loggerheads meat is not venomous, it is also not considered a delicacy. However, some people in various parts of the world consume them. But since they are listed as endangered species, hunting, killing, or consuming them is illegal.
What impacts do loggerheads have on the ecosystem?
Loggerhead sea turtles are an essential part of the marine ecosystem. They are important predators, keeping the populations of their prey species in check. They are also important food chain members, providing food for larger fish species, such as sharks and other predators.