Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchlings

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle found in United States coastal waters. They are named for their relatively large heads which support strong, powerful jaws enabling them to feed on hard-shelled prey! Loggerhead sea turtles have a heart-shaped, reddish-brown carapace in adulthood with a yellowish-brown underside. Hatchlings have a dark brown carapace with pale brown flippers and pronounced scutes.

This sub-adult loggerhead sea turtle is a past patient at CROW. Photo provided

Adult loggerheads can reach up to 400 pounds while the hatchlings weigh less than an ounce! As primarily carnivorous reptiles, they have a diverse diet. Adults will forage for shellfish at the bottom of the sea floor which includes horseshoe crabs, clams, mussels, conch, mollusks, sea urchins, and other invertebrates. Hatchlings, given their small size, consume mostly sargassum which is a familiar brown seaweed with berry-like bladders. Sargassum forms large floating masses where sea turtle hatchlings will spend their early developmental years.

Coastal bays and estuaries are primary habitats for loggerheads. They will spend most of their time in the shallow water of continental shelves along the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. In the Atlantic, they will range as far north as Newfoundland and as far south as Argentina. Whereas on the Pacific coast, loggerheads have been reported to range from Alaska all the way down to Chile.

In the United States, loggerhead sea turtles were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1978 and they have been the receipients of federal protections ever since. The migratory nature of loggerheads compromises the conservation efforts once they move out of U.S. waters. Loggerheads have been hunted for their eggs and for leather production for years. In addition, loss of nesting habitat due to coastal development, predation of nests, and human disturbance (artificial coastal lighting and housing developments) threaten population numbers and disorient the hatchlings during emergence from their nesting sites. Other threats such as incidental capture in longline fishing, fisheries, shrimp trawling, and pollution are thought to play a significant role in recent population declines of the loggerhead.

Nesting season begins in April and ends in September with peak season occurring between June and July. Females will reach sexual maturity at 30 to 35 years old. Nesting for adults occurs in intervals of two to four years. Female loggerheads will excavate three to six nests each season usually 12 to 14 days apart. Each laid clutch can have anywhere between 70 to 126 eggs on average! It will usually take at least 60 days for the eggs to incubate then hatch. Once hatched, they will crawl their way out of the nest making their way across the beach to the ocean where waves sweep them away to begin their lives!

On July 22 and 29, four loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings were admitted after sea turtle nest patrol volunteers found them incapable of making it to the water. So far this year, we have had a successful ratio of admissions to releases of loggerhead hatchlings. Some of them either had congenital deformaties or were just simply not strong enough to make it on their own yet. When turtles hatch, they get nutrients and energy from the yolk sacs which can take some time to absorb. Normally, a hatchling will get anywhere from five to seven days of energy through the absorption of the egg sac. While they are with us in the clinic, rehabilitators provide additional calories as needed and ensure their enclosures stay dark so the hatchlings don’t exhaust their precious energy attempting to crawl towards the light.

On the night of July 29, after the sun went down, we attempted to release the four hatchlings. Using red lights to keep track of their location, two of the hatchlings successfully made their way into and beyond the break of the waves! The other two were not quite ready and were brought back to the hospital for a few more days of rest before another attempt is made to release them.

Loggerhead sea turtles are a federally protected species. If you find a hatchling on the beach, it is illegal to handle them so please do not touch! Handling them could result in the transmission of life-threatening bacteria. Keep yourself and the sea turtles safe; if you see one on the beach please notify either FWC at 888-404-FWCC or SCCF at 239-472-2329.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (7/23-7/30):
There were 118 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including 21 Virginia opossums, 13 eastern cottontails, ten black skimmers, five loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings, two great egrets, a roseate spoonbill, and a tri-colored heron. Recent Releases include eight Florida softshell turtles, three Virginia opossums, a burrowing owl, a river otter, and a striped mud turtle. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases.

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year.

Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to www.crowclinic.org. If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.


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