CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Loggerhead Sea Turtle - Caretta caretta

(Linnaeus, 1758)
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Loggerhead Sea Turtle Sightings

Red: Some locations where Loggerhead Sea Turtles
have been seen in California


observation link





Loggerhead Sea Turtle Loggerhead Sea Turtle Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Captive rescued adult from the Gulf of Mexico at Sea Turtle Rescue Center, Sea Turtle Inc., South Padre Island, Texas
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Loggerhead Sea Turtle Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Adult underwater, Brooklyn Aquarium, New York
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Loggerhead Sea Turtle Pacific Ocean
Adult, Greece © Johan Chevalier Adult © Carlos Rodriguez Munoz
Habitat in California, the Pacific Ocean
     
Description
 
Size
The largest hard-shelled turtle on earth.
Adults are generally 33.5 - 39 inches in shell length (85 - 100 cm) and weigh around 300 lbs. (135 kg).
The maximum known length is 7 ft. (213 cm), and turtles weighing 1,000 lbs. (453 kg.) have been reported.
(These are old records and turtles of this size probably no longer exist.)
In our area, most Loggerheads are around 8 - 36 inches in shell length (20.3 - 91 cm). (Stebbins 2003)

Appearance
A large marine turtle with a very broad head, a thick, bony, elongated heart-shaped shell, and huge paddle-like limbs.
The carapace is high in front, and contains 5 or more costal shields on each side which do not overlap.
The posterior rim is serrated.
The first shield touches the nuchal shield.
There are 2 pairs of pre-frontal scales.
Color and Pattern
The carapace is reddish or orange-brown, with yellow edging around the shields. The plastron is cream colored with some dusky clouding. The head pigmentation varies from reddish to olive brown, with many yellow-bordered scales. The flippers are rusty brown.
Male / Female Differences
Males have a wider shell, a long tail that extends well beyond the edge of the shell, a recurved claw on each forelimb, and more yellow color on the head.
Young
Young have a yellowish carapace with 3 lengthwise keels.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Aquatic, sometimes found far out in the open ocean. Hatchlings float and cannot sink. Hatchlings and juveniles are usually found drifting with ocean currents and eddies associated with drifting mats of marine vegetation.

Loggerheads spend much time floating on the surface sleeping and basking, but also rest submerged on the bottom.

During a year when she reproduces, the activity of a female Loggerhead can be divided into four periods - foraging (most of the year), migration to the nesting area, nesting, and migration back to the feeding range. In other years she will probably spend all year foraging in her feeding range.

Females usually return to the beach where they were hatched to nest several times during their lives, often traveling over a thousand miles to get there. How they manage to navigate such long distances to such a specific area is a mystery. This navigation might involve a combination of light cues, sound, smell, and an ability to detect the earth's magnetic fields.
Diet and Feeding
Omnivorous. Invertebrates are the most important food group for Loggerheads. Their large head and massive jaws are adapted for crushing hard-shelled prey. Loggerheads eat sponges, crustaceans, mollusks, jellyfish, worms, cephalopods, bivalves, barnacles, shrimp, fish, and marine plants.
Breeding
Adults are sexually mature at between 10 and 30 years of age and can reproduce for up to 32 years.

Unlike all other marine turtles, Loggerheads nest on beaches mostly outside of the tropics. Nesting locations include Mexico, Braziil, Japan, South Africa, Oman, Australia, and the southeastern United States, from New Jersey to Texas, mostly in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Nesting occurs generally from May to August. The average female nests every 2 or 3 years, and sometimes up to 7 years. Females nest from 1 - 7 times per season (usually 1 - 3). Egg clutches are laid at intervals of around 11 - 15 days, in-between which a female may swim to reefs or estuaries to feed.

Most nests are dug at night, but diurnal nesting does occur. Wide beaches with a moderately-steep slope are preferred. The female Loggerhead crawls onto the beach then wanders around to find a proper nesting location. Then she digs the nest, lays around 125 eggs, then crawls back into the water. The whole process takes an hour or two.
Eggs are subject to predation by many animals, including crabs, crows, armadillos, raccoons, dogs, cats, skunks, snakes, and humans. The eggs hatch in 46 - 80 days. Hatchlings emerge at night and crawl frantically to the sea, dodging many predators which are waiting to eat them, which can include crows, snakes, crabs, vultures, seabirds, raccoons and dogs.

Geographical Range
Loggerheads are found throughout temperate regions around the world in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans, and the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas, most commonly between latitudes 40 degrees north and south.

On the Pacific coast they are found from near Santa Cruz Island south to Chile. They are occasionally seen farther north.

Sea turtles can show up almost anywhere on the coast of California, but most sightings are not documented. The locations mentioned here only represent a small percentage of sightings. California sightings are rare. Most are juveniles that have crossed Pacific Ocean after hatching on beaches in Japan (Stebbins 2003). Sightings tend to occur from July to September and but may occur much of the year during El Niño years when ocean temperatures rise. Locations where Loggerheads have been seen in California waters include deep water off Newport in Orange County, several locations off San Clemente Island, near Paradise Cove at Malibu in Los Angeles County, False Cape in Humboldt County, south of West Anacapa Island, Santa Barbara, Montecito and Jalama Beach in Santa Barbara County, and San Diego and Camp Pendleton in San Diego County.

Full Species Range Map
Click Map to Enlarge
Habitat
Pelagic, living in the open ocean and rarely coming onto land.
Enters coastal bays, lagoons, salt marshes, estuaries, creeks, and the mouths of large rivers.

Notes on Taxonomy
Two subspecies were once recognized - Caretta caretta caretta - Atlantic Loggerhead, and
Caretta caretta gigas - Pacific Loggerhead, but these subspecies are now considered invalid.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Caretta caretta - Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Caretta caretta - Loggerhead (Stebbins 2003)
Caretta caretta gigas - Pacific Loggerhead (Stebbins 1966, 1985)
Caretta caretta - Loggerhead Turtle (Stebbins 1954)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Endangered.

The most populous sea turtle in North American waters, but their numbers are declining.

Development and degradation of beaches and coastal islands has destroyed nesting beaches or interfered with nesting activities. Artificial lights on beaches may cause females to return to the ocean without laying eggs. Hatchlings disoriented by the lights sometimes crawl toward highways and get run over. Nesting success is decreased due an increase in nest predators such as racoons which thrive in response to human development. Adults sometimes drown in shrimp nets or get killed by boat traffic. Floating plastic bags and balloons which resemble jellyfish are also a problem. When eaten, they block the gastrointestinal tract eventually killing the turtle. Entanglement in discarded fishing nets is also a serious threat.
Taxonomy
Family Cheloniidae Sea Turtles Oppel, 1811
Genus Caretta Loggerhead Sea Turtles Rafinesque, 1814
Species

caretta Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Linnaeus, 1758)
Original Description
Caretta caretta - (Linnaeus, 1758) - Syst. Nat., 10th ed., Vol. 1, p. 197

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Caretta - Spanish - carey - type of turtle and Latin -etta - little

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related or Similar California Turtles
C. mydas - Green Sea Turtle

E. i. bissa - Pacific Hawksbill Sea Turtle

L. olivacea - Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

D. coriacea - Leatherback Sea Turtle

More Information and References
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - Loggerhead Sea Turtle

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Turtles.org

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Turtles and Lizards of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Carr, Archie. Handbook of Turtles: The Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Cornell University Press, 1969.

Ernst, Carl H., Roger W. Barbour, & Jeffrey E. Lovich. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution 1994. (2nd Edition published 2009)

Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.

Range and Nesting Information has been adapted from a number of sources, including:

Sea Turtle Conservancy

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Wickipedia

Witherington, Blair E. Sea Turtles: An Extroardinary Natural History of Some Uncommon Turtles. Voyageur Press, 2006.

Spotila, James R. Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation. The Johns Hopkins University Press and Oakwood Arts, 2004.

Perrine, Doug. Sea Turtles of the World. Voyageur Press, Inc., 2003.

Arnold, E. Nicholas, and Denys W. Ovenden. Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe. Princeton University Press and Oxford, 2002.
Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.




Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) FE  - 10/24/11
FT - 7/28/78
Endangered
Threatened
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN


 

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