The scales on the carapace are called scutes. Made of the same keratin found in fingernails and hooves, scutes protect the bony plates of the shell from injury and infection. The growth rings around scutes can be counted to determine the approximate age of wild tortoises. The lighter the shell, the warmer the origin.Tortoises from hot places tend to have lighter-colored shells than tortoises from cooler areas. The light tan sulcata originates from the southern part of the Sahara Desert. Their shells are sensitive to touch. Shells have nerve endings, so tortoises can feel every rub, pet, or scratch and sometimes they love it.
These reptiles can live more than 100 years and weigh up to 200 pounds. Charles Darwin and Steve Irwin cared for the same tortoise, a Galapagos gal named Harriet. Darwin is said to have collected and named Harriet back in 1835. She was sent to England and eventually wound up at Australia Zoo, founded by Steve Irwin’s parents. She finally passed on in 2006, the same year as the Crocodile Hunter’s fatal encounter with a stingray.
You won’t be able to tell a tortoise’s sex until it reaches a certain size, which varies by breed. The most obvious sign is the plastron because of mating purposes, it’s flatter on females and curved on males. Males also tend to be larger and have longer tails. Males will eventually display their private parts while soaking. And it’s not uncommon for females to lay eggs, even without a mate to fertilize them.
Turtles and tortoises are the ultimate conservationists. They can extract water and nutrients from even the most paltry bites. Their hindgut system works like a double digestive tract, separating water from their waste. When the water’s scarce, they’ll hang on to water waste and simply excrete the urates, which look like white toothpaste.
Turtles are among the most endangered vertebrates. Habitat destruction, illegal collection, water contamination, and massive harvesting of wild turtles are decimating the world’s turtle population. With only some 330 species of turtles and tortoises, many are on the endangered species list. To put this in perspective, there are an estimated 3,000 species of snakes and 7,000 species of lizards.
In Florida we have many native and invasive species of turtle. This includes the Florida Softshell, Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Green Sea Turtle, Florida Snapping Turtle, Common Snapping Turtle, Spotted Turtle, Florida Chicken Turtle, Eastern Chicken Turtle, Leatherback Sea Turtle, Gopher Tortoise, Barbour’s Map Turtle, Striped Mud Turtle, Eastern Mud Turtle, Alligator Snapping Turtle, Diamondback Terrapin, River Cooter, Florida Redbelly Cooter, Peninsula Cooter, Suwannee Cooter, Loggerhead Musk Turtle, Stripeneck Musk Turtle, Eastern Musk Turtle, Florida Box Turtle, Eastern Box Turtle, Gulf Coast Box Turtle, Three-toed Box Turtle,Red-eared Slider, and the Yellowbelly Slider.
In the State of Florida FWC protects many of these species. The organization has set a limit on wild-caught turtles to one turtle per person per day for non-commercial use. This includes Cooters, Escambia Map Turtle, Snapping turtles. Possession limits for Loggerhead musk turtles, Box turtles, Escambia map turtles, Diamondback terrapins are two, this can be the specimen or their eggs.
The turtles are that listed as imperiled in the State of Florida are Alligator snapping turtles, Barbour’s map turtles, Suwannee cooters. It is prohibited is taking species that look similar to the imperiled species, which include common snapping turtles and cooters.
Freshwater turtles can only be taken by hand, dip net, minnow seine or baited hook. Most freshwater turtles may be taken year-round. Taking turtles with bucket traps, snares, or shooting with firearms is prohibited. Softshell turtles may not be taken from the wild from May 1 to July 31. In addition, collecting of freshwater turtle eggs is prohibited.
In the state of Florida, the transport of more than one turtle per day is prohibited unless the transporter has a license for sale or exhibition of wildlife, aquaculture certification from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, or documentation that their turtles were legally obtained (proof of purchase).
Crazy Critters Inc. is a non-profit, 501(c)3, Exotic Animal Rescue and Wildlife Education Facility located in Eustis, Florida. The facility provides permanent homes to over 150 animals including lizards, turtles, skinks, geckos, birds, and assorted wildlife. Crazy Critters Inc. was established to provide non-domestic, non-releasable animals with a safe and permanent home.
Please come out and support Crazy Critters Inc. You will find Succulents, Cactus, Orchids, Hibiscus, and other hard to find species of plants. Every single dollar goes directly to the growth of the facility. The programs will educate the public on long-term conservation as well as current environmental issues concerning endangered and threatened species of wildlife and as their habitat. Crazy Critters is currently in construction and will have private educational tours available in the late Fall 2018.
For more information on how to become a sponsor, please contact Ken and Cherrice Purvee at Crazy Critters Inc. 22921 County Road 44a, Eustis, Florida. 352-589-5999.