Earth our Home too : Turtles

Turtles are reptiles of the order Chelonii or Testudines characterised by a special bony or cartilaginous shell developed from their ribs and acting as a shield. The scientific term turtle embraces the species known in general usage as tortoises, sea turtles and terrapins as well as all turtles, which term is commonly used to refer only to swimming species.

Photographed underwater by Monste Grillo, 36, from Tenerife, Spain, the turtles are seen swimming in unison as well as touching fins as they circle towards the surface. After spending hours in the water off the coast of the Canary Islands in 2012, the photographs capture the gentle nature of the creatures as well as giving a fascinating glimpse into their behavior in the wild. (Courtesy : CATERS NEWS)

Quick Facts about Turtles:

  • Turtles have been on the earth for more than 200 million years. They evolved before mammals, birds, crocodiles, snakes, and even lizards.
  • The earliest turtles had teeth and could not retract their heads, but other than this, modern turtles are very similar to their original ancestors.
  • Russian TortoiseSeveral species of turtles can live to be over a hundred years of age including the American Box Turtle.
  • One documented case of longevity involves an adult Indian Ocean Giant Tortoise that, when captured as an adult, was estimated to be fifty years old. It then lived another 152 years in captivity.
  • Turtles live on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Turtles will live in almost any climate warm enough to allow them to complete their breeding cycle.Box Turtle
  • While most turtles do not tolerate the cold well, the Blanding’s turtle has been observed swimming under the ice in the Great Lakes region.
  • Turtles range in size from the 4-inch Bog Turtle to the 1500-pound Leathery Turtle.
  • North America contains a large variety of turtle species, but Europe contains only two species of turtle and three species of tortoise.
  • The top domed part of a turtle’s shell is called the carapace, and the bottom underlying part is called the plastron.Greek Tortoise
  • The shell of a turtle is made up of 60 different bones all connected together.
  • The bony portion of the shell is covered with plates (scutes) that are derivatives of skin and offer additional strength and protection.
  • Most land tortoises have high, domed carapaces that offer protection from the snapping jaws of terrestrial predators. Aquatic turtles tend to have flatter, more aerodynamically shaped shells. An exception to the dome-shaped tortoise shell is the Pancake Tortoise of East Africa that will wedge itself between narrow rocks when threatened and then inflates itself with air making extraction nearly impossible.
  • Most turtle species have five toes on each limb with a few exceptions including the American Box Turtle of the Carolina species that only has four toes and, in some cases, only three.Red Earred Slider
  • Turtles have good eyesight and an excellent sense of smell. Hearing and sense of touch are both good and even the shell contains nerve endings.
  • Some aquatic turtles can absorb oxygen through the skin on their neck and cloacal areas allowing them to remain submerged underwater for extended periods of time and enabling them to hibernate underwater.
  • Turtles are one of the oldest and most primitive groups of reptiles and have outlived many other species. One can only wonder if their unique shell is responsible for their longevity.


The alligator trying to crack the turtles tough shell. These incr-edible pictures by Patrick Castleberry capture a real-life mutant ninja turtles hardy victory over a mighty ALLIGATOR during an exhaustive battle of brute strength. The immorturtle champion proved too much of a tough nut to crack after the 6ft chomper tried to clamp its powerful jaws around the petite reptile. The South American alligator, photographed in the Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia, spent up to 15 minutes trying to prise the turtles shell open and enjoy a quick-fix supper. But its not the size of the turtle in the fight, its the size of the fight in the turtle that counts as the Eastern River Cooters mar-shell arts earned him a life-saving victory. (Courtesy : Patrick Castleberry/Caters News)

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Differences between Turtle and Tortoise

Definition: A Tortoise is a reptile from the Chelonian family and dwells well on land. A Turtle is a reptile from the Chelonian family and dwells well in the water.
Distribution: Found mostly in Asia and Africa but some species exist in the Americas too. Africa, America
Shape of the shell: Mostly large dome shaped shells (with bumps on the top in some species.) Mostly flat, streamlined shells
Weight of the shell: The shells are heavier Generally light-weight shell
Limbs: Feet are short and sturdy with bent legs Webbed feet with long claws
Diet: Most are herbivores, but some species prefer live food. Eats fruits, veggies, leafy vegetation and meat so they are omnivores.
Birth: Tortoise hatchlings move from their nest to the mothers burrow soon after birth Turtle hatchlings stay in their nest on their own for 90-120 days
Family: Chelonians Chelonians
Class: Reptilia Reptilia
Kingdom: Animalia Animalia
Crown Group: Chelonia Chelonia
Lifespan: 80-150 years (The longest living Tortoise is 326 years) 20-40 years the oldest was 86 years

Differences in Habitat

A Turtle lives in the water and a tortoise lives on land. Both turtle and tortoise lay eggs on the ground. The mother will dig a burrow and lay two to twelve eggs there but in the case of a Turtle, the hatchlings will stay inside the egg for 90 to 120 days while in a Tortoise, the hatchling will follow the mother to its own burrow. Turtle hatchlings incubate on their own and once the process is complete they dig their way to the surface but in the case of a Tortoise, the mother provides protection to the hatchling for about 80 days after which they survive on their own.

Differences in Physical Characteristics

A tortoise has a dome shaped shell with short and sturdy feet. It’s legs are bent, instead of being straight and directy under the body. A turtle has a flat streamlined shell with webbed feet with long claws. In the case of a Turtle, the limbs are quite similar to that of a Tortoise but its feet are webbed and have long claws which provide a good grip upon floating logs and help clamber on to riverbanks. Some turtles might even have flippers as is, in the case of the famous Pig-nose Turtles.

Tortoise vs Turtle shell

The shells that cover the body of these reptiles are very important as it gives us a fair idea of how these reptiles live. As Turtles live in water, the shell of a turtle is flat and streamlined which aids in swimming and diving while that of a Tortoise, which lives on land, is rather large and dome shaped to provide protection from the predators. Also, the shell of a Tortoise is quite heavy as compared to that of a Turtle which is lighter to avoid sinking and help swim faster in the water.

Differences in Diet

Most land-based tortoises are herbivores while turtles can be both herbivores and carnivores. This is a video of a turtle eating a pigeon.

Reproduction of Turtles vs Tortoises

Turtles lay eggs, like other reptiles, which are slightly soft and leathery.Turtle hatchlings stay in their nest on their own for 90-120 days. Female tortoises dig burrows in which they lay from two to twelve eggs. Hatchlings take approximately 90-120 days to incubate within the ping-pong-ball sized eggs.

Difference in Lifespan

Tortoises generally have lifespans comparable with those of human beings, and some individuals are known to have lived longer than 150 years. The oldest tortoise life recorded was of an animal that lived for 188 years.

Common lifespan of a turtle is estimated at between 20-40 years. Sea turtles requiring 40 to 50 years to mature have life spans reaching at least 60 to 70 years.

On occasion it has been reported that individuals of a few tortoise species have lived in captivity for 100 to 250 years. In many of these cases, the reported sex of the supposedly long-lived tortoise, or the species, or even both, have mysteriously changed during captivity, making it difficult to accept the reliability of such reports. It is likely that 100 years is not the maximum for a few species, especially sea turtles and giant tortoises, but, in order to surpass this age, an extremely nurturing, protective environment would be required.[1]

As Pets

Both are kept as pets; though turtles are more common. Tortoises are actually easier to care for, but more expensive. Unless you are an avid collector, willing and able to have a very long commitment neither is recommended as a pet.

Geographical Distribution

Tortoises are found mostly in Asia and Africa, while turtles are found in Africa and America.

Turtles rescued
Turtles rescued

Turtles are threatened 

Is there anything more harmless than a turtle? (Unless, I suppose, you’re a nice, leafy vegetable.) Turtles and tortoises—the main difference is that turtles dwell at least partially in water, while tortoises live exclusively on land—are slow-moving, peaceful animals whose main form of protection from the outside world is a hard shell. Not for nothing do we have the fable of the slow and steady tortoise winning the race. Turtles have existed in some form for more than 220 million years, outlasting their early contemporaries the dinosaurs. Long-lived turtles and tortoises are symbols of perseverance in the natural world.

Unfortunately, the rules of the race are changing. Turtles and tortoises are among the world’s most endangered vertebrates, with about half their more than 300 species threatened with extinction. Only primates—human beings expected—are at greater risk of being wiped off the planet. The threats are many. The animals are collected by traders, eaten in the wild and in fine restaurants, used as pets or for traditional medicine, and sometimes simply killed. The very adaptations that once made them so successful—their long adult life span and delayed sexual maturity—has made them vulnerable as the world around them changed, mostly thanks to human beings.

A 2011 report from the Turtle Conservation Coalition makes it clear: we need to act now if we’re to save the turtles and the tortoises:

We are facing a turtle survival crisis unprecedented in its severity and risk. Humans are the problem, and must therefore also be the solution. Without concerted conservation action, many of the world’s turtles and tortoises will become extinct within the next few decades. It is now up to us to prevent the loss of these remarkable, unique jewels of evolution.

As we mark World Turtle Day on May 23, spare a thought for these armored but endangered creatures.

Sea turtle populations have been seriously reduced worldwide through a number of human influences. Overdeveloped coastal areas have reduced natural nesting habitats. Capture of adult turtles for eggs, meat, leather, and tortoise shell has decreased breeding populations. For these reasons all sea turtle species are protected.

Overall, only 1 in 1,000 to 10,000 sea turtles will live to maturity. Major predators after nest emergence are birds and fish.

Turtles rescued
Turtles rescued

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