Discover Maryland's Herps

Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)

Family Cheloniidae

Loggerhead Seaturtle
Caretta caretta

Photo of Loggerhead Seaturtle courtesy of JohnWhite
Photo of Loggerhead Seaturtle courtesy of JohnWhite


31 - 45 inches. Record – 83 inches

Photo of Loggerhead Seaturtle (ventral view) courtesy of JohnWhite
Photo of Loggerhead Seaturtle
(ventral view) courtesy of JohnWhite


  • This is the largest living hard-shelled turtle (Leatherbacks are larger, but soft-shelled).
  • Five or more costal scutes on each side of the heart-shaped carapace, or top shell.
  • The first costal scute touches the nuchal scute.
  • The elongated carapace is reddish brown often tinged with olive, and scutes may also have a yellow border.
  • The large scutes on the large head follow this color pattern also.
  • The rear border of the carapace is serrated in all but the largest specimens.
  • Carapace often encrusted with barnacles.
  • The plastron (bottom shell) is cream to yellow.
  • Upper surface of neck and flippers are reddish brown, while undersurfaces are cream to yellow.
  • Three enlarged bridge scutes, which do not have pores.
  • Habitats

    Open sea to near shore and brackish bays. Occasionally found in the tidal brackish portions of larger coastal rivers. Nest on sandy ocean-side beaches.

    How to Find

    Our most common sea turtle, they can be viewed from May to November near shore and offshore (adults) or in the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays (juveniles) while boating, as they spend a great deal of time floating on the surface. In recent years there have been a few nesting attempts on the beaches of Fenwick and Assateague Islands. Nesting is typically at night from June to August. State and federally listed as Threatened. If you find any nesting loggerheads, do not disturb them. Please contact DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Service.

    Distribution in Maryland

    Aquatic areas of the Coastal Bays and Chesapeake. May nest is Worcester County.

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    Maryland Amphibian
    and Reptile Atlas Project

    "A Joint Project of the Natural History Society of Maryland, Inc. and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources"

    For monthly newsletters of the Maryland Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project click on Recent Newsletters and scroll down to the MARA Newsletters.

    The Maryland Herpetology Field Guide is a cooperative effort of the MD Natural Heritage Program and the MD Biological Stream Survey within the Department of Natural Resources and their partners. We wish to thank all who contributed field records, text, and photographs, as well as support throughout its development.