MarLIN

information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.

Summary

Description

Caretta caretta has a distinctive large, yellow-orange head (hence its name), which is extremely broad posteriorly. It has dark brown eyes, a parrot-like beak and extremely powerful yellow jaws. The flippers are proportionately small, and the body length is up to 1.5 m; 0.3-0.5 m in juveniles. Both the carapace and flippers are reddish-brown in colour. The underside of the body is yellow. It commonly weighs up to 180 kg.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

This species has been recorded along the south west coasts of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales.

Global distribution

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Habitat

Caretta carreta is highly adaptable and migratory. It can be found throughout the world in subtropical and temperate waters and is primarily a shallow water species traveling long distances along coastal regions. Caretta caretta is a cold blooded (ectotherm) species, relying on the external environment to control its body temperature. Therefore, it can often be found basking near the surface in the open ocean.

Depth range

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Identifying features

  • Large yellow-orange head.
  • Dark brown eyes.
  • A parrot-like beak.
  • Up to 1.5 m long.
  • Commonly weighs up to 180 kg.
  • Carapace is reddish-brown, whilst the underneath (plastron) is yellow.

Additional information

This species is almost entirely carnivorous using their powerful jaw to crack open crustaceans and shellfish, as well as feeding on sponges, jellyfish and occasionally algae (Bustard, 1972). Sexual maturity can be reached as late as 37 years old. Females nest 3 - 5 times in one breeding season, returning to breed every couple of years. The female lays her eggs high up on specific tropical beaches. This can lead to predation from native species as well as humans. Hatchlings follow the light of the moon to the ocean. Light pollution from land can confuse the hatchlings diverting them away from the ocean resulting in desiccation, increased risk of predation and, hence, death. The hatchlings and small juveniles are pelagic, drifting amongst rafts of sargassum (brown algae) and flotsam of the open ocean before migrating to shallower coastal waters. Juveniles have small spikes along the spine of the shell.

Caretta is classified as Endangered (EN - A abd) on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List 2002, listed on Appendix I on Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), Appendix I and II of the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) 1979, Appendix II of the Bern Convention 1979, and Annex II of the EC Habitats Directive. All five species of turtles are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and Schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats & c.) Regulations 1994 (Anon. 1999(ii)). This species is particularly susceptible to: bycatch from shrimp trawlers; ingestion of marine debris, and predation on eggs.

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Further information sources

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Bibliography

  1. Anonymous, 1999ii. Marine turtles. Grouped Species Action Plan http://www.ukbap.org.uk/UKPlans.aspx?ID=335, 2001-07-09

  2. Bustard, R., 1972. Sea turtles, their natural history and conservation. London: Collins.

  3. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  4. MCS (Marine Conservation Society), 2004. Loggerhead ( Caretta caretta ). http://www.mcsuk.org/Turtles/factfile/loggerhead.htm, 2004-12-01

  5. Penrose, R.S., 2003. UK & Eire Marine Turtle Strandings & Sightings Annual Report 2002. [On-line]. http://www.strandings.com, 2004-12-08

  6. Pierpoint, C. & Penrose, R., 2002. A Database of Marine Turtle Records for the United Kingdom & Eire. [On-line]. http://www.strandings.com, 2004-12-08

  7. WCMC ( World Conservation Monitoring Centre), 2000. Species Under Threat, Loggerhead - Caretta caretta. http://www.wcmc.org.uk/species/data/species_sheets/loggerhe.htm, 2004-12-01

  8. Wildscreen, 2004. Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).[On-line] http://www.arkive.org, 2004-12-01

Citation

This review can be cited as:

Rowley, S.J. 2005. Caretta caretta Loggerhead turtle. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available from: http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/2094

Last Updated: 16/02/2005