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Commonly Asked Questions

Appears in Georgia Aquarium's:
  • Gray's Reef Habitat (Georgia Explorer)

Range / Habitat

  • Occurs all over the world in the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. In Western Atlantic from the northern Gulf of Mexico through the Bahama Islands and the Antilles.
  • Found in shallow coastal waters, muddy bottom bays. 

Physical Characteristics

  • The carapace, or upper shell, of the loggerhead is reddish brown in color with a yellow underside. As the turtle ages, the carapace can become covered in algae and barnacles giving it a green to gray color. Its skin is cream to yellow in color.
  • Weighs from 200 to 350 lbs. (91–159 kg) and reaches approximately 3 feet (91 cm) in length.
  • Hatchling is about 2 inches (5 cm) long and weighs 0.85 ounces (24 gm).
  • Unlike land turtles, a sea turtle is unable to tuck its head and legs into its shell, making it vulnerable to sharks, the turtle’s only natural predator.
  • Has powerful, toothless jaw to crush food.

Diet / Feeding

  • Diet consists of bottom dwelling invertebrates such as mollusks, clams, whelks, crabs, oysters, shrimp, sponges and horseshoe crabs.
  • Also a scavenger that rarely eats live fish.
  • Young turtle preys on jellies.

Reproduction / Growth

  • Turtle finds way back to the same beach every two or three years to make a nest and lay eggs.
    • During nesting season, the female emerges at night and drags her body up a beach to make a nest for her eggs.
    • Once she reaches an area on the beach well above the high water line or into the dune face, she digs a hole by scooping sand with her rear flippers. 
    • She then deposits the eggs, which resemble ping pong balls.
    • Covers eggs with sand, smoothing the sand out with her body to disguise its location from predators such as raccoons.
    • Female then returns to the sea.
  • Eggs incubate for approximately 45 to 60 days, depending upon temperature and a variety of other factors.
    • During incubation, hatchling sex is determined by the temperature of the nest. For loggerheads in the Southeast, temperatures below 85o F (29.5o C) typically produce more males while above typically produce more females.
  • Hatchling is active as soon as it breaks out of its egg.
    • Emerges from the nest, after days of digging its way up through the sand, and makes its way to the ocean.
    • During this period, the tiny turtle falls prey to ghost crabs, birds, and other predators.
    • Once in the water, hatchling swims out to the nearest floating mass of sargassum weed and spends the first portion of its life there feeding, growing and drifting with the currents. 
  • Loggerheads produce 50,000 to 70,000 nests per year along the Southeastern U.S. coast, distributed as follows:
    • Florida (91%)
    • South Carolina (6.5%)
    • Georgia (1.5%)
    • North Carolina (1%)
  • Mating season in Southeastern U.S. is April through July, with turtles nesting in late June through early September.
  • Average clutch size (number of eggs laid) is 100 to 125 eggs. 
  • “Lost years” is the period of time between hatching and the turtle’s return to coastal waters as a juvenile.  No one knows for certain where the newly hatched turtle spend its first 3 to 7 years. Of every 1,000 to 10,000 juvenile turtles that hatch, only two will grow to adulthood and reproduce.

Conservation Status

  • “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • Named for its large head.
  • Passes entire life in the ocean, save for hatching and reproduction.
  • Spends much of its time floating at the ocean’s surface.
  • Thought to reach maturity at age 20 and may live well over 100 years.  
  • Loggerhead sea turtles have inhabited the oceans for millions of years, swimming at the same time dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Sources

Talking About Sea Turtles. Department of Natural Resources Film & Video, 1992.
Protected Animals of Georgia. Winn, B., pgs. 65 - 66
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/species/turtles/loggerhead.html
endangered.fws.gov/i/c1t.html
www.nps.gov/pais/loggerhead.html

Sea Turtles of the Georgia Coast. Ruckdeschel, C. and C.R. Shoop, G.R. Zug.