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Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta caretta, Family Cheloniidae, Pictures, Stock Photos, Images

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There may be two subspecies, the Pacific & Indian Ocean Loggerhead, Caretta caretta gigas, and the Atlantic Loggerhead, Caretta caretta caretta, but researchers are divided on whether this is a valid distinction.

Other common names: Loggerhead Turtle, Loggerhead Seaturtle, Loggerhead, Logrit (Caribbean), Caguama and Cabezona (Latin America) (Witherington, 2006).

The Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta caretta, gets its name from its massive head. It is among the largest of the hard-shelled sea turtles, and it has a hard, powerful beak, which it uses to crush the shells of the crabs and shellfish it feeds on.

The loggerhead is a medium to large size sea turtle with a weight of 70-170 kg (155 to 375 lbs) and a carapace length of from 80 to 110 cm (30 to 43 in) (Witherington, 2006). Its width is about three quarters its length, giving it a stout appearance. Its color is reddish brown with some darker streaks, and its shell often becomes home to algae and barnacles, making it blend in well with the sea bottom where it rests. Its shoulders are yellowish, and the same yellow color extends over its entire underside, or plastron. The scales on its flippers are orange-brown surrounded by yellow skin. It has two claws on each front flipper, and two pairs of prefrontal scales, often with one or two intervening scales. It has 5 pairs of lateral scutes, distinguishing it from green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles, which have four.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles are found in coastal tropical and subtropical waters throughout the world, and they often venture into temperate waters to search for food. Some travel as far north as Newfoundland or as far south as Argentina. Loggerheads prefer the waters of the continental shelves over islands, and they often enter estuaries and other mainland shallows. Large concentrations are found where food sources are abundant, such as the Chesapeake Bay area estuaries, where horseshoe crabs congregate in summer, or Baja California, where pelagic red crabs are found in great numbers.


Loggerhead Sea Turtle underwater image
Picture of loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta, Bahamas, Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean. Image #: 003718

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Testudines

Suborder: Cryptodera

Superfamily: Chelonioidea

Family: Cheloniidae

Genus Species: Caretta caretta

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Loggerhead Sea Turtles have a varied diet. Their massive head and powerful jaws allow them to eat mollusks and crustaceans of all types, and they can easily crush the shells of conchs and sea snails. They are known to dismantle wooden traps to get at the lobsters or crabs inside. In addition, they eat softer animals such as sea cucumbers, sea urchins and soft corals, and they scavenge fish discarded from fishing vessels. Juveniles in their pelagic phase feed on whatever floats by, including algae, plants, fish eggs, snails, shrimp, worms, jellyfish, dead fish or squid, and more. As they are likely to eat anything they encounter, they are particularly vulnerable to discarded floating plastics, which they ingest at their own peril.

Loggerheads have a wide range of nesting sites and are the only sea turtles that nest on temperate beaches as well as tropical ones. The nesting sites with the largest numbers are Masirah Island, in Oman (30,000 females annually), and the barrier island beaches of the southeastern U.S., especially Florida (25,000 females annually).

Loggerheads are known to travel great distances-1,000 miles or more-to return to their place of birth for mating and nesting. They mate between March and June, after which the males quickly depart for their feeding grounds. The females lay from one to seven clutches of eggs at intervals of two weeks, each clutch containing about 110 eggs. The eggs incubate for about two months, after which the 4.5 cm (2 in) brown or gray hatchlings emerge from their shells and quickly race to the sea.

Loggerheads spend their juvenile years in a pelagic phase where they ride the currents of the open ocean. In the Pacific, this pelagic phase lasts over 15 years. During this phase, they swim great distances, and tagged individuals from Japan have been known to reach the coast of California, 9,000 km (5,600 miles) away. Few marine animals travel as far as the loggerhead.

In their adult phase, which loggerheads reach at the age of 15 to 30 years, they stay in close proximity to the continental shelf. They may live to be 60 years old or older.

During winter months, loggerhead turtles are known to bury themselves in the muddy sea bottom and lay dormant for periods of time. Researchers are in dispute over how long this dormant stage may last, with some saying weeks or months, while others claiming less than a day.

The IUCN lists the loggerhead as Endangered. In Australia, they are listed as Highly Endangered, as their numbers there have decreased by 90% in the last 50 years. Worldwide, nests are preyed upon by foxes, raccoons and other animals, and loggerheads are highly vulnerable to commercial fishing nets and long lines. There are reports of as many as 20,000 loggerhead deaths annually from long lines in the Mediterranean alone. In this century, there have been increasing reports of loggerhead deaths due to parasites as well as diseases caused by biotoxins.

For a diagram helpful in identifying the loggerhead sea turtle, see:

• Loggerhead sea turtle information assembled from published and on-line sources by Kevin Miller on Nov. 14, 2006 for


Perrine, D. Sea Turtles of the World, Voyageur Press, 2003

Ripple, J. Sea Turtles, Voyageur Press, 1996

Witherington, B. Sea Turtles, Voyageur Press, 2006