So many facts about turtles – part 1

Who doesn't like turtles?

More than 300 different species of turtles exist in the world. You will find seven species of sea turtles in the ocean.  The leatherback sea turtle can average a shell length of 6.6 ft and weigh upwards of 2,000 lbs. Which is surprisingly opposite of the smallest being the speckled padloper tortoise – with an average length of 3.1 inches and weight of 5 oz. This difference between the largest and the smallest species of turtles speaks in volumes about a great deal of diversity in this reptile family.  These reptiles have existed on the planet for more than 200 million years. The fossil records validate their existence during the Upper Triassic period.


They say a tortoise is a turtle, but a turtle isn’t a tortoise. The word ‘turtle’ is used for the members of this reptile family found in the water, while those found on the land are termed ‘tortoises’. Basically, the usage of these terms differs in accordance with the language in question. In British English, the term ‘turtles’ is used for those species which are found in the sea, and ‘tortoises’ for those inhabiting the land. In American English, on the other hand, the term ‘turtles’ is used as a general term to all the species belonging to this family; and the sea-dwelling species are specifically referred to as ‘sea turtles’.


Alligator snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in the world. Their heavy heads, strong jaws, and hooked beaks give them a prehistoric appearance, and their carapace, or shell, is spiked. Most turtles are aquatic or semi-aquatic, while tortoises live on land. Turtle shells are typically more flattened and not as deeply domed as tortoise shells but there are always exceptions to these rules.


In many turtle species, females are larger than males, while generally speaking, tortoise males are larger than females. Most turtles are aquatic or semi-aquatic, while tortoises live on land. Tortoises, however, are often good swimmers. Water turtles have flippers or webbed feet with long claws, and their shells are flatter and more streamlined. Tortoises have stubby, elephant-like feet and heavier, domed shells. Tortoises can live more than 200 years.


Tortoises won the space race. In 1968, the Soviet Union’s Zond 5 spacecraft was the first to circle the moon and return safely to Earth. The tortoises on board lost about 10 percent of their body weight but were still ready for a meal when they touched down. That’s one giant step for tortoise kind. Do not be surprised because these animals might be smarter than we think. In 2006 when scientist Anna Wilkinson placed a tortoise and rat in the same maze. The reptile was better at navigating the maze to find food, making sure it didn’t revisit the same area twice. When cognitive landmarks were removed for a second trial, the tortoise systematically visited each section of the maze to find food. The rat wasn’t as methodical. Previous research hasn’t shown tortoises to be so clever, though: Wilkinson suspects cold lab temperatures are to blame. Later research found that tortoises use gaze-following to learn from the behavior of other animals.

Unlike other reptiles, turtles and tortoises have very good vision and are drawn to bright colors. They are quick to notice bright hues that resemble edible flowering blooms, like on the cacti that thrive in the desert environments some tortoises call home. These animals can smell with their throats. Like other reptiles, tortoises detect the faintest of smells with the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s Organ, on the roof of their mouths. Instead of flicking their tongues, they pump their throats to circulate air through the nose and around the mouth.

A group of tortoises is called a creep. But you won’t see a creep very often. (Not that kind, anyway.) Tortoises are solitary roamers for the most part. Some mother tortoises are protective of their nests, but they don’t care for their young after they hatch.


Tortoises have an exoskeleton AND an endoskeleton. The shell has three main parts: the top carapace, the bottom plastron, and the bridge that fuses these pieces together. You can’t see them, but every tortoise has ribs, a collarbone, and a spine inside its shell. In fact, tortoises inspired the ancient Roman military. During sieges, soldiers would get in testudo formation, named after the Latin word for tortoise. The men formed rows and held shields in front or above them to completely shelter the unit. “Testudinal” means “pertaining to or resembling a tortoise or tortoise shell.”


Story by Crazy Critters

Hammer & Stain