Turtles are reptiles with a hard cartilage shell that acts as a shield. They are either sea-dwelling or freshwater Testudines. Turtles are classified as members of kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata, class Reptilia, and order Testudines. There are thirteen families in the order and more than 356 species. The families of turtles include the leatherback sea turtles, soft-shelled turtles, snapping turtles, and tortoises among others. The origin of turtles dates back 220 million years ago making them older than both crocodiles and snakes. Unfortunately, most of the remaining species are considered highly endangered.
This animal came into existence over 200 million years ago and evolved before other reptiles such as crocodiles and snakes. And, although the name turtle can include tortoise, the two animals differ significantly. Turtles are water dwellers while tortoises live on land. Also, while both animals have their body encased in a bony shell, these shells differ in texture and design. Each of the shells has a unique architecture that enables it to adapt to its habitat. For instance, when you look at their legs, you find that the tortoise has elephant-like feet. Turtles on their part have flipper-like feet that enable them to swim.
There are approximately 356 species of turtles living on the land in all continents except Antarctica and in both salt water and fresh water. Tortoises (family Testudinidae) live exclusively on land and have anatomic features distinguishing them from other turtles, but the term tortoise has long been used to refer to other terrestrial testudines as well, such as the box turtle and the wood turtle. Similarly, terrapin was sometimes used to describe any aquatic turtle but is now largely restricted to the edible diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) of the eastern United States.
Habitat Of Turtles
Turtles are neither social nor territorial. They typically do not mind the presence of other turtles in their vicinity. They spend the day foraging for food and retreat to the nest after sunset to escape the nocturnal predators. They are generally noisy creatures, but the sounds they make depends on the situation.
Turtles have many adaptations that help them survive in different environments. Some turtles live in cold climates, where it gets very cold during winter months; these turtles hibernate during these periods so they don’t expend too much energy trying to keep warm. Other types live in warmer climates where there is less food available; these turtles can hibernate when times get tough as well, but most remain active year-round instead!
Some produce sounds similar to electric motors, belching humans, or barking dogs. The red-footed tortoise of South America goes to the extent of clucking like a chicken. They are highly adaptive and can be found in all continents except Antarctica. They are found in large numbers in the waters of Indonesia, the Galápagos Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, East Africa, Gulf of California and the reefs of the Caribbean.
Types of Turtle
There are two types of turtles: freshwater and saltwater.
Freshwater turtles live in rivers, lakes, and other bodies of fresh water. They have flippers for swimming and can breathe underwater with their lungs. Freshwater turtles have scales on their skin instead of a shell.
Saltwater turtles live in the ocean, where they can swim freely without the need for flippers. Their bodies are streamlined for swimming, and they have strong tails that help them swim faster than freshwater turtles. Saltwater turtles do not have lungs; instead they breathe through their skin and gills when underwater.
Classification Of Turtles
Biologically speaking, turtles are reptiles belonging to the order Testudines which is further categorized into two groups (i.e. sub-orders) – Cryptodira and Pleurodira. Those species of turtles belonging to the sub-order Cryptodira are typically characterized by the ability to retract their head into the shell, while those belonging to the sub-order Pleurodira are known to fold their unusually long necks and tuck their head into the shell.
Within the order Testudines, there exist 14 families of turtles – which together comprise 97 genera of this reptile species. These 14 families are classified into the two sub-orders, with Cryptodira consisting 11 families (Carettochelyidae, Cheloniidae, Chelydridae, Dermatemydidae, Dermochelyidae, Emydidae, Geoemydidae, Kinosternidae, Platysternidae, Testudinidae and Trionychidae) and Peurodira consisting 3 families (Chelidae, Pelomedusidae and Podocnemididae.)
Size Of Turtles
The size of a turtle depends on the species, but most turtles grow to be between 10 and 12 inches long. Some species can grow to be much larger than that. The largest known tortoise was a Galapagos giant tortoise named’Adwaita’, who died in 2006 at the age of 250 years old and weighed about 1,000 pounds!
The smallest turtles are usually found in fresh waters, such as the painted turtle. These turtles have an average length of about 3-4 inches long. The smallest freshwater turtle is the Western pond turtle, which averages about 2 inches in length when fully grown.
The largest sea turtle species is the leatherback turtle. They can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and grow to be about four feet long. They have a very long life span, living for more than 100 years in some cases.
They have an interesting diet: turtles eat plants and fruit from trees. They also eat insects and worms that they find on land or in water. The shell protects them from predators, but if they do get attacked by another animal, they can quickly retreat into their shell and hide there until the danger has passed.
Turtles are found all over the world except Antarctica and a few other cold places like Greenland and Iceland. In fact, there are over 300 different species of turtles living on land or in water right now.
Main Types Of Turtles
1. Leatherback Turtle
The leatherback turtle is the giant of all turtles. This turtle has a length of up to 6 feet, making it the largest turtle on the planet. Also, it travels the farthest and swims deepest, reaching up to a depth of over 3000 feet. An adult Leatherback turtle weighs between 300 and 640 kgs. This turtle differs from other types of turtles mainly by its looks. Just a look at its shell is enough to help you identify this animal.
2. Loggerhead Turtle
Next on our list of turtles is the loggerhead. These types of turtles get their name from having a large or log-like head. Unlike the Leatherbacks, these turtles are known to have pretty strong jaws, and also lack ridges on their carapace. Instead, they have scales or scutes, which are large and non-overlapping. The carapace is bony and with a heart-like shape, and adult turtles have a reddish-brown carapace with yellowish-brown plastron.
3. Green Turtle
This turtle gets its name from the color of the green fats found under its shell. Green turtles feature a carapace with zero ridges. This part has four lateral scales that are large and non-overlapping. Its prefrontal single pair of scales is what makes it distinctive from other turtles.
4. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
Kemp’s Ridley is one of the famous types of small turtles. These turtles have a length of 2 feet and weigh between 32 and 50 kgs. They have a moderate head and triangular. Like the green turtle, their carapace has no ridges. Instead, it is large with non-overlapping scales divided into 5 rounded laterals. The adult carapace color is dark grey-green, featuring white or yellowish plastron, while their hatchlings have a jet black one. The turtle can lay up to 110 eggs per nest. Their eggs have an incubation of 55 days.
5. Hawksbill Turtle
Hawksbill is another turtle that fits in the small turtle group. Named after their head and hawk-like pointed beak, these painted turtles have a beautiful shell that attracts traffickers. Their head features two pairs of scales. The Hawksbill turtles feature an elliptical-shaped carapace with four overlapping lateral scales. You will notice them by the color of their bright carapaces, which is yellow, orange, or brown.
6. Flatback Turtle
Flatback turtles are also among turtles that don’t grow too big. They have a length of up to 3.25 feet and weighs around 90kgs. As the name suggests, they have a flat body. Their carapace is oval or sometimes round with non-overlapping scales. The carapace color is olive-grey with yellowish or pale brown tones on the margins. Their heads have prefrontal single pair scales.
7. Olive Ridley Turtle
These small turtles get their name from their olive-colored carapace. They have a small head and 6 lateral scales on their carapace. Their length range between 2 and 2.5 feet with a weight of up to 45 kgs. Unlike their counterparts, these turtles are omnivores meaning they feed on both sea insects or invertebrates and plants. When the nesting season kicks in, a mass of thousands of female turtles goes to the beaches to lay eggs. So, they follow the behavior of the Kemp’s Ridley turtles. The Olive Ridley turtles have annual nesting with two seasons.
8. Red Eared Sliders
If you are looking for a pet turtle, the red-eared slider tops the list of the most popular species. They are more sociable and easier to bond with, compared to most of their relatives. Also, they are quite active and easy to find. Red-eared sliders are among the turtles that stay small forever, and best suited for indoor aquariums – although you can still rear them outdoors. However, you must ensure you get them the right shelter, cleaned, and with warm temperatures.
9. African Sideneck Turtles
These are small freshwater turtles that have their roots in sub-Saharan Africa. This turtle species gets its name from its distinct long neck, which usually can’t retract fully from the shell. For this reason, they try to draw the neck to the side, folding it under the upper edge of the shell, and hence the name.
They are rounded in shape and can grow up to 17.7 inches. This makes them an incredible choice for a pet turtle. However, you should note that they are a bit complex to care for than many other turtle types.
10. Western Painted Turtles
When it comes to looks, the western painted turtle certainly carries the day. They have a distinctive look, with detailed shell patterns and markings. They are small, beautiful, and can fit either as indoors or outdoors pets. However, since they also like to swim, they will also require a large tank. Their home should also be warm and clean.