loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)
This is a large sea turtle that grows to lengths of 84 inches. The carapace is heart shaped, without striations on the surface, and brown to reddish brown in color. The plastron (lower shell) is hingeless, smaller than the carapace (upper shell), and cream to yellowish in color. Star-shaped light and dark streaks may be present on the carapace. The top of the head, the neck, and the front of the fore-flippers are reddish brown. The snout is short and the upper jaw is yellowish brown. The entire undersurface, side of the neck, and parts of the flippers are cream to yellow. The fore-flippers are large, about half the length of the carapace; the hind-flippers are short and paddle-like. Each flipper bears one or 2 claws. Hatchling and juvenile loggerheads have a brown carapace with 3 dorsal keels. The breeding season is from April to August. Incubation takes 55-70 days, and there are 2 to 3 nestings per year, with an average clutch size of 119 eggs.
The loggerhead is the most abundant sea turtle in Virginia’s coastal waters. It is found only in salt water, in the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore south, in all the major rivers along Virginia’s coast, and into channels between barrier islands. The Chesapeake Bay is an important summer foraging area for subadults between the ages of 5 and 15 years. Nearly all nesting sites are on barrier islands in the United States. Nesting habitat is a sand beach that is high enough that it is not inundated by high tides nor soaked by ground water rising from below.
The loggerhead forages in the bay and its estuaries primarily for horseshoe crabs. It will also consume other crustaceans, sea grasses, sponges, fish, molluscs, and snails.