Today is World Turtle Day, and we’ve compiled some of our favorite photos and twenty fascinating facts about these amazing creatures.
- Turtles are one of the oldest types of reptile on the planet – they’ve been around for about 200 million years! They have a lot in common with their earliest ancestors, with the exception of teeth (which modern turtles don’t have) and the ability to retract their heads (which ancient turtles did not have).
- Turtles and tortoises are part of the order Testudines. The main difference between the two is the area they inhabit: Testudines living in marine and freshwater environments are turtles, whereas those that are exclusively terrestrial are tortoises.
Land tortoises generally tend to have high-domed shells to protect them from getting grabbed up by predators, while aquatic turtles tend to have flatter shells, making them more hydrodynamic.
- A turtle shell is comprised of 60 connected bones, including the spine and ribcage.
- The Pancake Tortoise, which lives in East Africa, can wedge itself between rocks with its flatter shell and then inflate it with air so that predators can’t pull it out.
- There are species of turtle living on every continent on Earth except Antarctica
- Turtles have nerve endings in their shells.
- The largest type of turtle is called the leatherback sea turtle – they can have shells up to 72 inches long, and weigh up to 1500 pounds!
- The top, domed part of a turtle shell is called the carapace; the part on the underside of the turtle is called the plastron.
- Some turtles have a moveable joint connecting the carapace and plastron, which acts as a hinge, to pull the two sections tightly together so the turtle inside is virtually inaccessible.
- The Alligator Snapping Turtle, an omnivore with carnivorous leanings, has a tongue that bears remarkable resemblance to a worm. It uses its wormlike tongue to lure its prey.
- Turtles don’t have vocal cords, and as a result the noises they make tend to be more like clucks or even belches.
- Turtles don’t have ears. They do have an eardrum-like structure, however, which although its perception is limited, does enable them to hear low-frequency noise.
The African Helmeted Turtle has glands under each of its legs, which release a nasty-smelling liquid to repel predators, kind of like a skunk.
- The temperature a turtle egg is kept at can actually determine the sex of the baby turtle inside. Eggs kept warmer tend to produce females, while eggs kept at a lower temperature will generally produce males.
- Many species of turtles have incredible life spans. The oldest documented case was an Indian Ocean Giant Tortoise, which at the time of its capture was estimated to be around 50 years old, and which lived another 152 years in captivity!
Most turtles can survive for a long time without oxygen. The western painted turtle can, at low temperatures (in one study about 37 degrees Fahrenheit), go 4 months without oxygen.
- Baby western painted turtles can even be frozen solid, and as long as they don’t get physically damaged, they will be fine when they thaw out.
- Tortoises such as the giant ones found in the Galapagos can also go without food or water for extended periods of time – this contributed to the endangerment and extinction of some species because sailors who visited the island would take the tortoises onto their ships to use as food sources for long journeys.
- Over half of Earth’s 331 species of turtle are endangered.