Contents:      Hatching    Growth & Migration    Mating    Nesting  

Hatching

Baby loggerheads are a little larger than a fifty-cent piece.  They will easily fit in the palm of your hand.

When the eggs hatch the turtles make their way to the surface in a group, then, (usually at night) they head toward the sea across the beach.  They emerge at night in response to cooler temperatures of the sand.  They head toward the ocean, attracted by the light reflected off the surf.  This is why it is so important to observe "Lights Out for Sea Turtles"!  Lights on the beach or along the shore can confuse the hatchlings and lead them in the wrong direction.

Hatching is the time that they are most vulnerable to predators which have the uncanny knack of knowing when the turtles will hatch.  The hatchlings must travel across the beach on their own.  Scientists believe the journey to the ocean imprints the magnetic field of the earth on their brains.  This gives them a sense of direction, and allows them to return to the natal area when they mature in 20 to 25 years.  Yet another terrific reason for Turtle Patrol!  Since the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol has existed in some form since 1972, many patrollers feel that we are experiencing the fruits of our labors - we have many more nests now than we did in The Seventies.  Goes to show that you CAN make a difference if you try!

Loggerhead turtles are literally under threat from the moment they hatch. The trip from the nest to the deep water in the ocean is dangerous for the hatchlings, with birds, crabs, and fish all trying to eat them.  

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Growth & Migration

Once in the ocean, hatchlings swim continuously for up to 24 hours to reach the Gulf Stream.  There they drift with the current in the sargassum weed where they are protected and have plenty of food to grow on.  In the shelter of the sargassum weeds, they remain and grow - scientists are not exactly certain for how long.  Then they strike out on their own into the ocean. After a period of 20-25 years, the survivors (possibly as few as one in ten thousand!) will gather off the coast to mate and nest.

Loggerhead turtles live at least 30 years, and may live as long as 50 years or more.

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Mating

When the water warms on the continental shelf in spring, male and female loggerheads gather to mate.  Courtship and mating usually do not take place near the nesting beach, but rather along the migration routes between feeding and breeding grounds.  After the mating period, the male leaves.  The female remains offshore while her fertilized eggs develop.

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Nesting

Female loggerheads come ashore during the night to nest.  On Kiawah, this typically happens starting in mid-May and continues until mid-August.  Tagging studies have shown that females return to nest at a preferred beach on a two-year or three-year cycle.  Scientists believe that the "preferred beach" is the beach where they were hatched.

After the female has selected a site, she laboriously digs her nest with her back flippers, alternating one and then the other to withdraw a scoop of sand until she reaches the maximum depth, about 18 inches beneath the surface. The eggs are deposited one at a time, falling to the bottom of the nest and packing together. After the eggs have been deposited, she tops off the nest with sand, packs it down firmly by thumping her shell over it and throws sand all around the area with her flippers for camouflage. Across the beach and into the waves she goes, never to return to the nest. 

Loggerheads lay 4 to 7 nests per season, typically about 14 days apart.  The average number of eggs per nest ranges from 100 to 126.  The eggs typically incubate for 50 to 60 days.  Then... voila! Baby turtles appear!

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Revised: May 16, 2007