Turtles. What’s not to love? They’re fascinating reptiles with all kinds of cool moves that have been on earth for more than 200 million years! These guys are a hardy bunch, outlasting dinosaurs and everything since! If you love turtles as much as we do, read on for some cool facts you might not know about the chelonia kind.
- If you’re confused about the difference between turtles and tortoises, you aren’t alone. Tortoises are turtles, but turtles are not tortoises! Here’s what makes them different from each other:
- The key difference is that turtles spend most of their time in the water and tortoises spend most of their time on land.
- Turtles have webbed feet or flippers, perfect for swimming, while tortoises have round, stumpy feet to help them walk better on land. They have strong front legs that help them dig burrows for when it gets too hot.
- Turtles are omnivores.
- Turtles don’t have ear openings but they do have ears and can still perceive some sounds and vibrations, although not as well as humans or other animals.
- There are more than 300 species of turtles but only 7 species of sea turtles.
- Turtles live on every continent, except Antarctica, however the majority of turtle species have been found in southeastern North America and South Asia.
- Sea turtles live in the ocean but they breathe air. They can stay underwater for up to two hours before they need to come up for air.
- Sea turtles have special glands that filter the salt out of the water they drink.
- In 1968, he Soviet Union sent two tortoises into space to test a space vehicle. They were in space for one week and returned safely to earth, unharmed.
- Most turtles and tortoises have long lifespans depending on their species. Sea turtle lifespans are estimated at 80 years. Pet turtles can live up to 20 years. And, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, a Seychelles giant tortoise named Jonathan, is believed to be the oldest living animal on earth, at 187 years old. He lives on the island of St. Helena.
- Turtles cannot leave their shells (unlike how they do in cartoons!)
- While turtles are famous for being able to pull their head and flippers inside of their shells, sea turtles aren’t able to!
- Turtles don’t have teeth. Many are born with an “egg tooth” that helps them get out of their shell when they hatch but soon afterwards it falls off.
- Sea turtles have a built in GPS system tied to the earth’s magnetic field that enables them to migrate thousands of miles over their lifetime.
- And, many female sea turtles are able to return to the same beach where they were born in order to lay their own eggs! (aww, how nostalgic!)
- The largest sea turtle species is the leatherback turtle, which can grow up to 6 feet and weigh up to 2,000 pounds.
- On the tortoise side, the Galapagos tortoise can grow up to 6 feet (and weigh in at nearly 600 pounds!)
- Turtles’ shells are very cool. The top part, called the carapace, is part of the turtle’s vertebral column. The bottom part of the shell, which is part of the turtle’s rib cage, is called the plastron.
- Turtles’ shells have bones. In fact, they are made up of about 60 bones in total. The smooth covering are plates called scutes that are made of keratin (the same stuff that makes human fingernails). Shells have nerves and a blood supply so if they get injured it can hurt and bleed.
- All turtles lay eggs. But they don’t stick around to mother them! Turtles dig a nest in dirt or sand, lay their eggs and then hit the road. Baby turtles instinctively know what to do when they hatch, even without their mama around.
- A group of tortoises is called a creep
Don’t you agree that turtles are amazing? But like many other sea and land creatures, global warming, pollution, pet and farming trade are reducing turtle populations at an alarming rate. Sadly more than half of the world’s turtles are facing extinction. Check out our article on how to help turtles!