Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Caretta caretta

* Federal Threatened State Endangered *

Common Name:

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Scientific Name:

Caretta caretta



Caretta is derived from the French word caret  which means "a kind of turtle".


caretta is derived from the French word caret which means "a kind of turtle".

Average Length:

31 - 45 in. (79 - 114 cm), weight 170 - 350 lbs. (77 - 159 kg)

Virginia Record Length:

42.5 in. (108 cm)

Record length:

48+ in. (122+ cm), weight 500+ lbs. (227+ kg)

Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier I - Critical Conservation Need - Faces an extremely high risk of extinction or extirpation. Populations of these species are at critically low levels, facing immediate threat(s), or occur within an extremely limited range. Intense and immediate management action is needed.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The average carapace length of turtles in the Chesapeake Bay is 66.7+/-10.8 cm (n=238) was significantly smaller than average carapace length for turtles found in coastal waters (72.3+/-17.4, n=46). Over 80% of the C. caretta are between 40 and 80 cm carapace length. The carapace is heart shaped with a serrated posterior edge. Younger specimens have a middorsal keel. The front vertebral scute is rhomboidal in shape and the front pleural scutes on either side contact the cervical. There are two sets of prefrontal scutes. The head is large (to 23 cm in width; 17-22% of carapace length), with a large, oval parietal scute. The carapace is brown to reddish brown, and can be tinged with olive. The plastron is hingeless, cream to yellowish and is smaller than the carapace (71-75% of carapace length); back of the head, neck, and the front of fore-flippers are reddish brown. Snout and upper jaw are yellowish brown, while ventral surface of the limbs, side of the neck, and parts of the flippers are cream to yellow. The front flippers are large, about half the length of the carapace; while the back flippers are short and paddle-like. Each flipper has 1-2 claws *2086,1027,10760*. Adult males as in many other turtles long tail that can be seen beyond the carapace *10760*. Hatchling and juvenile loggerheads have a brown carapace with 3 keels on dorsal vertebrals 1-3. The plastron is tan to dark brown and has 2 keels. Virginia hatchlings averaged 47 mm (42-53, n=788) in length. Many of the specimens seen in Virginia waters are juveniles *10760*.

REPRODUCTION: The breeding season is from April to August. Incubation takes 55-70 days *4269,10760*, and there are 2 to 3 nestings per year; Clutch size averages 119+/-17.3 eggs (87-147) for 12 nests found between 1970 and 1982. *1027*. Nesting in Virginia has been reported on the barrier beach islands off the Eastern Shore and in or near Back Bay Wildlife Refuge *4269*. This species requires a reproductive site that is a sand beach which is high enough that is not inundated by high tides nor soaked by ground water rising from below. They can not cope with many predators on the nest site and almost all nests are on islands. The age at maturity is thought to be from 13 to 20 years with the maximum reproductive life of a female 32 years. Mating begins before the nesting season and ends soon after nesting begins. There may be long term sperm storage by the females. The female goes to shore 1 to 7 times during a nesting season to deposit the eggs in a hole which she digs on a high beach. A few nest every year but most nest every second or third year. Some may even nest every 4 years. Incubation time is temperature dependent and can be greater than 70 days in North Carolina.

BEHAVIOR: This species wanders extensively and nests on sandy beaches *2086, 1027*. They are carnivores and feed mainly on invertebrates which are crushed by its powerful jaws before swallowing. It is an opportunistic feeder and has three feeding strategies. They feed in shallow water on mollusks, horseshoe crabs, barnacles, crustaceans, echinoderms and sponges. They also feed pelagically on coelenterates and scallops. They may also feed as a scavenger on shrimp heads, fish, crabs, squid and other discards from the shrimp fleet. This species is a wanderer and exhibits moderate to strong philopatry in that they nest at the same beach throughout their reproductive life with very little straying. They nest at night and feed almost exclusively during the day. The hatchlings emerge from the nest at night. They take a migration route to the waters in and around the Azores and eventually several years later end up in U.S. waters. The hatchlings require floating rafts of sargassum for survival. There is no parental care and the female leaves the eggs after they have been buried. In the Chesapeake, this species arrives in June and stays throughout the warmer months of the year *8817,8850*. Habitat partitioning was exhibited by the different life stages of the loggerhead turtle in Virginia. The habitat was partitioned to allow immature stages to forage within Chesapeake Bay, while large sub-adults and adults were found offshore during the summer *8819*. They are found in the Chesapeake Bay from May to November with peak abundance in mid-June *8822*. If nesting females are disturbed before egg laying begins, they will usually abandon the nesting attempt. The hatchlings instinctively travel toward the brightest horizon, normally the sea *9286*.

LIMITING FACTORS: This species is limited by predation of the eggs from the raccoon and incidental catch from all types of fishing operations *8817*. In 1984 83 turtles were examined for the cause of death and nets were implicated in 28.9 percent with boat wounds representing 9.6 percent *8819*. Sea turtles are preyed on by sharks *8818*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: There is substantial annual mortality in the Chesapeake during late May and early June, since at least 1970, cause unknown. Musick speculates that poundnet fishermen may be killing loggerheads to prevent them from entering their nets *4269*. There is a reported three percent reduction in the population in Georgia and a five percent decline in South Carolina *8850*. The sex ratio in Virginia is 2.1 females to 1 male *8819*. This species reaches sexual maturity at 20 to 30 years *9286*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: Three genera of blood flukes have been found in loggerheads including Carettacola, Hapalotrema and Neospirorchis *8817*. The hatchlings are associated with Sargassum rafts until they reach about 40 cm length. The hatchlings are preyed upon by ghost crabs, birds and fishes *9286*.

References for Life History

  • 1027 - Carr, A.F., 1952, Handbook of Turtles. Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California, 542 pgs., Comstock Publ. Assoc., Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY
  • 4269 - Musick, J.A., Linzey, D.W. (Ed.), 1979, Loggerhead, Proceedings of the Symposium on Endangered and Threatened Plants and Animals of Virginia, pg. 398-400, Virginia Polytechnic Inst. and State Univ, Blacksburg, VA
  • 8817 - Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 1988, Endangered Species Information System Booklet: Loggerhead Sea Turtle. , U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arlington, VA
  • 8818 - Keinath, J.A., J.A. Musick, R.A. Byles, 1987, Aspects of the biology of Virginia's sea turtles: 1979-1986, Virginia J. Science, Vol. 38(4), pg. 329-336
  • 8819 - Bellmund, S, J.A. Musick, R.E. Klinger, R.A. Byles, J.A. Keinath, D.E. Barnard, 1987, Ecology of sea turtles in Virginia, VIMS Special Scientific Report, Vol. 119, 48 pgs., VA Inst. Marine Sci., Coll. Wm and Mary., Gloucester Point, VA
  • 8822 - Lutcavage, M., Musick, J.A., 1985, Aspects of the biology of sea turtles in Virginia. , Copeia 1985, Vol. 2, pg. 449-456
  • 8850 - Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 1985, A recovery plan for marine turtles. , 363 pgs., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, GA
  • 9286 - Terwilliger, K.T., 1991, Virginia's endangered species: Proceedings of a symposium. Coordinated by the Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries, Nongame and Endangered Species Program, 672 pp. pgs., McDonald and Woodward Publ. Comp., Blacksburg, VA
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC


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Verified County/City Occurrence

Accomack County
Gloucester County
Hampton City
Lancaster County
Mathews County
Middlesex County
Newport News City
Norfolk City
Northampton County
Northumberland County
Poquoson City
Portsmouth City
Suffolk City
Virginia Beach City
York County
Verified in 15 Counties/Cities.


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Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.


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Virginia has 25 species and subspecies of turtle. Five of these species are sea turtle.