Green Sea Turtle
Chelonia mydas

* Federal Threatened State Threatened *

Common Name:

Green Sea Turtle

Scientific Name:

Chelonia mydas



Chelonia is derived from the Greek word chelone  which means "a tortoise".


mydas is derived from the Greek word mydos  which means wetness".

Average Length:

36 - 48 in. (90 - 122 cm), weight 250 - 450 lbs. (113 - 204 kg)

Virginia Record Length:

Record length:

60.2 in. (153 cm), weight 650+ lbs. (295+ kg)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The shell is broad and heart-shaped and the head small. They have a length from 91-153 cm and weigh 100-340 kg. The smooth, keelless carapace is brown with brown mottling. The plastron is white to yellow and the head is light brown with yellow markings. The flippers are paddle-shaped and each has one claw *1045,1027,10760*. They are characterized by a single pair of prefrontal scales on the head and usually four costal scutes on the smooth carapace *8850*. Carapace is weakly serrated posteriorly; middorsal keel lacking; 12-12 marginal scutes, 4/4 pleural scutes, and 5 vertebrals scutes. The first vertebral scute is triangular, and the cervical scute on the front edge of the carapace is separated from the front pleural scutes on each side by the front vertebrals *10760*. Sexual dimorphism: Males have a prehensile tail that extends beyond the carapace is equipped with a claw-like projection. The female's tail is rarely visible beyond the carapace. Males have long, curved claws on front limbs, while females have short, straight claws *10760*. Hatchlings and juveniles have a brown to dark green carapace that is keeled. The plastron is white, and the limbs and head are black. Scutes and limbs are white-edged. This helps them in being disguised from predators. As hatchlings they are between 41-59 mm and they weigh between 18-35 grams *10760*. Green turtles can be confused with loggerheads, who have a reddish brown carapace; and Ridleys who are grey or olive. These 2 species have 5 pleural scutes, with the foremost contacting the cervical scute, and the first vertebral scute is squarish rather than triangular *10760*.

REPRODUCTION: The breeding season varies with location. All nesting occurs in tropical climates. The incubation period is 48-70 days, depending on the beach conditions. Nesting occurs at 2, 3, or 4 year intervals. They have 2-7 clutches per season with 75-200 eggs/clutch. The female builds the nest at night on a sloping beach. She digs a large basin with the front flippers, and at the bottom of this digs a smaller egghole with the rear flippers *1045,1027,8850*. Courtship occurs in the vicinity of nesting beaches and possibly enroute to nesting beaches *8850*. As in many sea turtles, warm nest temperatures produce female hatchlings and cold nest temperatures produce male hatchlings *10760*.

BEHAVIOR: This species forages in shallow water marine grasses. Nesting is on shallow beaches and copulation occurs in the water near the nesting beach. Basking occurs on reefs or uninhabited islands *1045*. This species has the unique ability to digest plant material. However, the hatchlings and yearlings are primarily carnivorous and mature specimens eat marine animals, particularly cniderians when they are available. Hatchling dispersal is likely to be a response to wave forces and ocean currents in their subsequent movements rather than migration *8850*. The young float with large mats of Sargassum during early development. The adults are noted for long migrations and remarkable navigation abilities *9286*.

ORIGIN: The origin of this species is native *1045*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: As in many sea turtles, warm nest temperatures produce female hatchlings and cold nest temperatures produce male hatchlings *10760*. Juveniles spend the first few years in the Sargasso Sea and with debris drifts in the the deep ocean being carried by currents. As adults they migrate up and down the coast. There population in Virginia is scarce and is probably accidental migratory *10760*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: Adults feed primarily on seagrasses. Hatchlings are prey to a number of creatures on land (Birds, mammals) and in the water and it is a favored delicacy for humans. They will nest only on a few quiet and uninhabited beaches *10760*.

Life History Comments: Green turtles are considered the most palatable of all sea turtles and they became a prime source of meat for mariners and settlers of colonial America *8850*.

References for Life History

  • 1026 - Bustard, R., 1973, Sea turtles: Natural history and conservation, 22 pgs., Taplinger Publ., New York, NY
  • 1027 - Carr, A.F., 1952, Handbook of Turtles. Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California, 542 pgs., Comstock Publ. Assoc., Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY
  • 1045 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1980, Selected vertebrate endangered species of the sea coast of the United States: Green sea turtle, FWS/OBS-80/1.13, U.S. Fish and Wildl. Svc., Off. Biol. Serv., Washington, DC
  • 8818 - Keinath, J.A., J.A. Musick, R.A. Byles, 1987, Aspects of the biology of Virginia's sea turtles: 1979-1986, Virginia J. Science, Vol. 38(4), pg. 329-336
  • 8819 - Bellmund, S, J.A. Musick, R.E. Klinger, R.A. Byles, J.A. Keinath, D.E. Barnard, 1987, Ecology of sea turtles in Virginia, VIMS Special Scientific Report, Vol. 119, 48 pgs., VA Inst. Marine Sci., Coll. Wm and Mary., Gloucester Point, VA
  • 8822 - Lutcavage, M., Musick, J.A., 1985, Aspects of the biology of sea turtles in Virginia. , Copeia 1985, Vol. 2, pg. 449-456
  • 8850 - Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 1985, A recovery plan for marine turtles. , 363 pgs., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, GA
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC


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Verified County/City Occurrence

Accomack County
Gloucester County
Hampton City
Norfolk City
Northampton County
Northumberland County
Virginia Beach City
Verified in 7 Counties/Cities.


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