Caretta caretta
ITIS Species Code:   173830         NatureServ Element Code:   ARAAA01010
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

17.2 %
0.2 %
12.5 %
50.8 %
5.6 %
0.0 %
1.5 %
0.0 %
10.3 %
2.0 %
2.0 %
< 0.1 %
0.0 %

65.0 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

6.5 %
< 0.1 %
4.7 %
19.2 %
2.1 %
0.0 %
0.5 %
0.0 %
3.9 %
0.0 %
0.7 %
< 0.1 %
62.3 %

24.5 %
Spends most of its life at sea where it will wander in the open ocean, but is generally thought to stay east of the western boundary of the Gulf Stream (Ernst et al. 1994); nests sparingly north to Ocracoke Inlet (Martof et al. 1980).

Primarily inhabits the open ocean, but will enter bays, lagoons, salt marshes, creeks, and river mouths. The turtles mate at the surface of open water either near the nesting beach or in a male's territory as the female passes through on her way to the nesting beach (Ernst et al. 1994). Nests on isolated beaches (Martof et al. 1980), often but not always showing sight fidelity from year to year (Ernst et al. 1994).

A nest is dug in the sand on an open beach above the high tide line. It may be at the base of the dunes facing the beach or among the shrubs and vegetation behind the dunes. Selection of nest sites may depend on the temperature of the sand, with temperatures between 19.4 and 22.7 degrees C being preferred (Ernst et al. 1994).


Open sea to more than 500 miles from shore, mostly over continental shelf, and in bays, estuaries, lagoons, creeks, and mouths of rivers; mainly warm temperate and subtropical regions not far from shorelines. Adults occupy various habitats, from turbid bays to clear waters of reefs. Subadults occur mainly in nearshore and estuarine waters. Hatchlings move directly to sea after hatching, often float in masses of sea plants (Sargassum); may remain associated with sargassum rafts perhaps for 3-5 years. In Chesapeake Bay, occurs mainly in deeper channels, usually at river mouths or in the open bay.

Nesting occurs usually on open sandy beaches above high-tide mark, seaward of well-developed dunes. Nests primarily on high-energy beaches on barrier strands adjacent to continental land masses in warm temperate and subtropical regions; steeply sloped beaches with gradually sloped offshore approaches are favored (CSTC 1990). Renesting generally occurs at the same beach or within a few km; generally returns to the same area in subsequent years if habitat remains suitable. Individuals sometimes change to different nesting beach within a single nesting season; has changed to sites up to several hundred km away (see Eckert et al. 1989). Maximum hatching success and hatchling size occur when sand moisture level is about 25%. In Florida, nesting on urban beaches was strongly correlated with the presence of tall objects (trees, buildings), which apparently shield the beach from city lights (Salmon et al. 1995).


Juveniles and adults offshore.

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
378 Ocean Beaches Open beach sand. Upper Beach
375 Hypersaline coastal salt flats Tidal flats within salt marshes, including saltmeadow cordgrass or sea-purslane dominated alliances. Salt Marsh
371 Maritime Grasslands Dune grass community consisting of sea oats and beach grasses. Dune grass, Maritime dry grassland
8 Open water Open water without aquatic vegetation. No equivalent
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Exclude all land greater than 50 meters from an open water feature.
Exclude fresh water habitats.
Stoneburner, D. L., M. N. Nicora, and E. R. Blood. 1980. Heavy metals in loggerhead sea turtle eggs (CARETTA CARETTA):evidence to support the hypothesis that demes exist in the western Atlantic population. J. Herpetology 14:171-175.

Frazer, N. B. 1983. Effect of tidal cycles on loggerhead sea turtles (CARETTA CARETTA) emerging from the sea. Copeia1983:516-519.

Frazer, N. B. 1983. Survivorship of adult female loggerhead sea turtles, CARETTA CARETTA, nesting on Little Cumberland Island, Georgia, USA. Herpetologica 39:436-447.

Witherington, B. E., K. A. Bjorndal, and C. M. McCabe. 1990. Temporal pattern of nocturnal emergence of loggerhead turtle hatchlings from natural nests. Copeia 1990:1165-1168.

Frazer, N. B. 1992. Sea turtle conservation and halfway technology. Conservation Biology 6:179-184.


Conant, R. and J. T. Collins. 1991. A field guide to reptiles and amphibians:eastern and central North America. Third edition. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, Massachusetts. 450 pp.

Taylor, B. L. 1992. Population viability analysis for the Little Cumberland Island population of loggerhead turtles (CARETTA CARETTA). Abstract, 6th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, p. 122.

Peters, A., and K. J. F. Verhoeven. 1994. Impact of artificial lighting on the seaward orientation of hatchling loggerhead turtles. J. Herpetology 28:112-114.

Shoop, C. R., and R. D. Kenney. 1992. Seasonal distributions and abundances of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles in waters of the northeastern United States. Herpetology Monongraphs 6:43-67.

Witherington, B. E. 1992. Behavioral responses of nesting sea turtles to artificial lighting. Herpetologica 48:31-39.

Salmon, M., R. Reiners, C. Lavin, and Jeanette Wyneken. 1995. Behavior of loggerhead sea turtles on an urban beach. I. Correlates of nest placement. Journal of Herpetology 29:560-567.

Salmon, M., and B. E. Witherington. 1995. Artificial lighting and seafinding by loggerhead hatchlings:evidence for lunar modulation. Copeia 1995:931-938.

Ernst, C. H., R. W. Barbour, and J. E. Lovich. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. xxxviii + 578 pp.

Wyneken, J., et al. 1988. Egg failure in natural and relocated sea turtle nests. J. Herptology 22:88-96.

Eckert, K. L., et al. 1989. Inter-nesting migrations by leatherback sea turtles (DERMOCHELYS CORIACEA) in the West Indies. Herpetologica 45:190-194.

Mrosovsky, N., and J. Provancha. 1989. Sex ratio of loggerhead sea turtles hatching on a Florida beach. Canadian J. Zoology 67:2533-2539.

Bowen, B. W., N. Kamezaki, C. J. Limpus, G. R. Hughes, A. B. Meylan, and J. C. Avise. 1994. Global phylogeography of the loggerhead turtle (CARETTA CARETTA) as indicated by mitochondrial DNA haplotypes. Evolution 48:1820-1828.

Scott, J.D. and O. Sweet. 1974. Loggerhead turtle:survivor from the sea. 64 pp.

Witherington, B. E., and L. M. Ehrhart. 1989. Hypothermic stunning and mortality of marine turtles in the Indian River Lagoon System, Florida. Copeia 1989:696-703.

Fritts, T. H., W. Hoffman, and M. A. McGehee. 1983. The distribution and abundance of marine turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and nearby Atlantic waters. J. Herpetology 17:327-344.

Dodd, C. K., Jr. 1990. CARETTA. Cat. Am. Amph. Rep. 482.1-482.2.

Dodd, C. K., Jr. 1990. CARETTA CARETTA. Cat. Am. Amph. Rep. 483.1-483.7.

McGehee, M. A. 1990. Effects of moisture on eggs and hatchlings of loggerhead sea turtles (CARETTA CARETTA). Herpetologica 46:251-258.

Mrosovsky, N., and M. Benabib. 1990. An assessment of two methods of sexing hatchling sea turtles. Copeia 1990:589-591.

Ernst, C. H., and R. W. Barbour. 1972. Turtles of the United States. Univ. Press of Kentucky, Lexington. x + 347 pp.

Martof, B. S., W. M. Palmer, J. R. Bailey, and J. R. Harrison, III. 1980. Amphibians and reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 264 pp.

Frazer, N. B., and L. M. Ehrhart. 1985. Preliminary growthmodels for green, CHELONIA MYDAS, and loggerhead, CARETTA CARETTA, turtles in the wild. Copeia 1985:73-79.

Frazer, N. B., and J. I. Richardson. 1985. Annual variation in clutch size and frequency for loggerhead turtles, CARETTA CARETTA, nesting at Little Cumberland Island, Georgia, USA. Herpetologica 41:246-251.

Lutcavage, M., and J. A. Musick. 1985. Aspects of the biology of sea turtles in Virginia. Copeia 1985:449-456.

Bjorndal, K. A., editor. 1982*. Biology and conservation of sea turtles. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 583 pp. *Copyright date; date on title page is "1981.".

IUCN. 1982. The IUCN Amphibia-Reptilia red data book, part 1. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Shoop, C. R., C. A. Ruckdeschel, and N. B. Thompson. 1985. Sea turtles in the southeast United States:nesting activityas derived from aerial and ground surveys, 1982. Herpetologica 41:252-259.

Mrosovsky, N. 1983. Conserving sea turtles. British Herpetological Society. 176 pp.

Van Meter, V. B. 1983. Florida's sea turtles. Florida Power & Light Company, Miami. 46 pp.

Marine Turtle Recovery Team. 1984. Recovery plan for marine turtles (loggerhead turtle, green turtle, leatherbackturtle, hawksbill turtle, and Kemp's ridley turtle). Natl. Mar. Fish. Serv. and U.S. Fish and Wildife Service 363 pp.

Proffitt, C. E., et al. 1986. Effects of power plant construction and operation on the nesting of the loggerhead sea turtle (CARETTA CARETTA):1971-1984.

Stebbins, R. C. 1985. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Second Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. xiv + 336 pp.

Halliday, T., and K. Adler, editors. 1986. The encyclopedia of reptiles and amphibians. Facts on File, Inc., New York.

Alderton, D. 1988. Turtles and tortoises of the world. Facts on File Publications, New York.

Dodd, C. K., Jr. 1988. Synopsis of the biological data on the loggerhead sea turtle CARETTA CARETTA (Linnaeus 1758). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biol. Rep. 88(14). 110 pp.

Ernst, C. H., and R. W. Barbour. 1989. Turtles of the world. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. xii + 313 pp.

National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1995. Status reviews for sea turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver spring, Maryland. vi + 139 pp.

Committee on Sea Turtle Conservation (CSTC), National Research Council (U.S.). 1990. Decline of the Sea Turtles:Causes and Prevention. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. xv + 259 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1990. Endangered and threatened species recovery program:report to Congress. 406 pp.

Matthews, J. R., and C. J. Moseley (editors). 1990. The Official World Wildlife Fund Guide to Endangered Species of North America. Volume 1. Plants, Mammals. xxiii + pp 1-560 + 33 pp. appendix + 6 pp. glossary + 16 pp. index. Volume 2. Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians.

Bjorndal, K. A., and A. B. Bolten. 1988. Growth rates of juvenile loggerheads, CARETTA CARETTA, in the southern Bahamas. J. Herpetology 22:480-482.

Iverson, J. B. 1991. Patterns of survivorship in turtles (order Testudines). Canadian J. Zoology 69:385-391.

Mitchell, J. C. 1991. Amphibians and reptiles. Pages 411-76 in K. Terwilliger (coordinator). Virginia's Endangered Species:Proceedings of a Symposium. McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia.

Dodd, C. K. 1992. Loggerhead sea turtle CARETTA CARETTA (Linnaeus). Pages 128-134 in P. E. Moler, editor. Rare and endangered biota of Florida. Vol. III. Amphibians and reptiles. Univ. Press of Florida.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853