Can turtles find their way home?


By Stacey Venzel

While many turtles move from one home to another, they are not traveling aimlessly. A turtle crossing the street might look lost, but it knows where it is going.

Despite turtles sometimes having to abandon their original home due to poor environmental conditions, they return to this abode once it has returned to being a well-suited habitat. Using a variety of senses combined with natural cues, turtles are experts at navigating back to home sweet home.


Visual cues are one method of navigation used by turtles. Like their bird relatives, turtles essentially have a built-in map in their brains, using the sun, moon and stars along with the earth’s magnetic field to figure out directions. Scientists have also suggested sea turtle hatchlings use the ocean currents to locate their original nesting beach, while others believe they taste the ocean water when they first enter it, remembering this specific taste to find their way back up to 20 years later.


Karen Eckert, David Gulko, Sea Turtles: An Ecological Guide (Honolulu, Mutual Publishing, 2004), 24, 74, 85.

Whit Gibbons, Judy Greene, Turtle: The Animal Answer Guide (Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, 2009), 42-43, 86.